Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
Chicago Police on a Murderous Rampage: 42 people shot
Thirteen. Just graduated from sixth grade. Thirteen. A child becoming a teenager. Thirteen. Summer time fun with family and friends. Thirteen. An evening in the neighborhood, relief from the daytime's horrid heat.
Thirteen. Shot eight times by Chicago police. Thirteen. Handcuffed at the ankle to a hospital bed. Thirteen. Awake in pain to see a cop there 24/7, the whole time spent recovering from the shooting. Thirteen. Questioned by police in a hospital room without parents or a lawyer there. Thirteen. Charged with felonies because the police shot you.
Emmett Till was 13 years old when he traveled from Chicago to Money, Mississippi, where he was beaten and shot to death by white racists for simply being full of life. It was 1955. Emmett Till lived in the era of Jim Crow. It was a time of KKK terror when Black people were second-class citizens by law. If you were Black you were forced to sit in the back of the bus, you were not allowed to use white only facilities like bus stop waiting rooms or swimming pools and even beaches.
Jimmell Cannon was 13 years old when he was shot by Chicago police simply for being full of life. Jimmell was attending a cousin's birthday party with family members when the police appeared on the scene claiming he had a gun and shot him eight times. Jimmell Cannon lives in the era of the New Jim Crow. It is a time of police brutality and murder, wholesale criminalization and mass incarceration, and legalized discrimination against those who get out of prison (and their families) in jobs, in housing and in a thousand other ways. This is the face of the oppression of millions of Black people today.
Jimmell Cannon and Joe Banks, 21 years old, were both shot by police on the west side of Chicago within days AFTER a full-page cover of the Chicago Sun-Times blared on July 24 that more 40 people had been shot by Chicago police in 2011: "SHOOTINGS BY CHICAGO COPS SOAR—BUT WHY?"
This was the first time it became widely known that the police were shooting people at double the rate of the previous year. The new mayor and former White House Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, was silent. His new hand-picked police chief took to the airwaves to proclaim that the shootings were all justified, claiming the victims were criminals who "pull out guns and shoot at police officers... with wanton disregard." These are BIG lies. Eyewitnesses say Jimmell had his hands in the air and there was no gun. The police later claimed Jimmell had a BB gun. Jimmell's bullet wounds show that both of his hands were shot while open. The wounds to the back of his shoulder and leg confirm he had his back turned toward the police just as eyewitnesses said... hardly a threatening position.
The new police chief, Garry McCarthy, left the Newark, New Jersey, police department this past spring just as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) succeeded in forcing the Department of Justice to investigate the Newark police's excessive use of force, discriminatory policing and poor treatment of detainees. The ACLU had collected evidence of rampant misconduct. Garry McCarthy is also an adherent of a police theory called "broken window." The essence of this is that if a community "allows" (!) neglect as evidenced in broken windows, graffiti, or abandoned cars—it is not long before serious crime follows.
The Chicago Police Department version of the "broken window": police receive a complaint about school windows being shot out with a BB gun. Police arrive on the scene and proceed to shoot with wanton disregard, hitting Jimmell Cannon eight times and then turn around and charge him with felony damage to property.
Further, the police chief justifies the police shootings, blaming it on the victims by asking, "why would you run?" Think about this. Since when do the police have the legal right to shoot a person who is not hurting anyone—and who is trying to leave an area, especially if there seems to be a bad scene developing? There is no such law.
What does this say about police terror in oppressed communities? The practice is so common that when Revolution newspaper asks young people in minority communities in Chicago about it, they reply that there is a law that says the police can shoot if you run from them.
As Bob Avakian put it: "The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness." (BAsics 1:24)
Since the magnitude of police shooting people has come to light, followed immediately by the police shooting a 13-year-old and another unarmed young man, the police have been on the offensive to whip up reactionary and very visible support for the police department. The news is filled with police department memorial tributes to fallen cops. An annual "Ride to Remember" swelled from a few hundred in the previous year to over 1,000 motorcycle bikers parading up the drive along Lake Michigan riding in a show of support for police.
The police blog "Second City Cop" is very popular among cops and the people who back them to the hilt. It has been named one of the top 50 police blogs in the U.S. It is written by at least one active-duty cop. Recently, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a column by one of their editorial board members that said the police should at least express some regret for having to shoot a 13-year-old. The SecondCityCop blog, responded to the column, branding the Sun-Times as the "Slum Times." SecondCityCop writes, "Express regret? For what? For following Department Orders? For following the Illinois Statutes? For raising a miniature gang banging piece of crap and future drain on society as a whole? Oh wait, that would be the parent(s) who should be expressing regret in that example... Anyone want to clue us in as to what the police have to express regret for?"
It gets worse. In response to a columnist's concern that police disrespect is going to alienate the entire Black community, the Chicago cop writes: "Well, it's kind of hard to 'respect' a community that praises the criminal and refuses to accept responsibility for the actions of spawn it has produced and failed to raise within the norms of a civilized society. You work on that and then come back so we can talk, maybe in about thirty or forty years. Jimmell will just about be finishing his sixth or seventh stint in prison about then."
Anyone who knows the history of Nazi Germany and the logic that led to the extermination of millions of Jews should recognize this as the same mentality. Or anyone who remembers and thinks it sounds like Vietnam, you are right, it does. The Vietnamese were dehumanized as gooks and killed with wanton disregard. Or now in Iraq where the people are called rag-heads and whole families are shot down at check points and bombs are dropped on wedding parties. It sounds the same because it is the same basic mentality of an occupying military force that views the people it is occupying as the enemy.
The fact that a working Chicago cop can flaunt such racist and genocidal views on a popular police blog and not get suspended or fired or disciplined in any way speaks volumes about the role of the police.
People in some of the neighborhoods where this police rampage is concentrated have reported to Revolution that the People's Neighborhood Patrols have been seen frequently. These patrols, in an organized and disciplined way, witness, call out, and stand up to any and all illegal actions by the police against the people.
This is a significant thing which should be supported.
People are finding ways to stand up. Demonstrations have been called on the spot in the neighborhoods where people have been shot. Revolutionaries have attended these demonstrations, as well as press conferences, and held Stolen Lives banners outside funerals at the families' request. Thousands of copies of a flyer put out by the Revolutionary Communist Party (Chicago branch) have been widely distributed by people throughout the city. (The flyer is available online at revcom.us/i/241/Chipolicerampageflyer.pdf.). As that flyer says: "IT IS TIME FOR US TO WAKE UP. The days when this system can just keep doing what it does to people, here and all over the world ... when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness ... those days must be GONE. And they CAN be."
As a part of fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution... revolutionaries are distributing Revolution newspaper and building organization around it. Many more people need to become part of the movement for revolution we are building. In different neighborhoods, the revolutionaries are working to find people and places (churches/stores) to step forward to get Revolution each week so a network can be built up throughout the city. Meantime, the cops have been trying to intimidate people for simply having the newspaper. Friends and relatives of a young man killed in June reported the police demanded to know where they got copies of Revolution. It has also been reported that youth have also taunted the police who harass them for having a communist newspaper—"we're communists, what of it?"
Looking ahead, October 22, 2011, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation, looms as the day on which there must be an outpouring of broad—and determined—resistance across the country to police brutality and murder, to the torture of prisoners, to mass incarceration and the criminalization of a generation, and to the increasing repression of those who dare to speak out against this system. People must unite and step out to stop these outrages! "Enough is enough—no more!"
Send us your comments.
Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
Minister Collier Baggett, Grandmother of Jimmell Cannon
I want to ask a question, a very important question. I want to ask the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has he given orders to shoot to kill our Black children? My 13-year-old grandson was shot by the Chicago Police Department—but he's not the only victim that has been shot by the Chicago Police Department. I have a letter that I want to hand deliver to our president—President Obama—requesting that U.S. Attorney Perez, Luis Perez, come to Chicago to investigate to find out what kind of orders we have against our children. To find out if Black men are in danger of the Chicago Police Department.
This is supposed to be someone who's protecting us. Now we have a fear of who to go to if you need help today. Who do you call if you need help today? Our children are taught to respond to the police officer. They are told to go to them in time of need. If they're in trouble or they're in danger they're to go to the Chicago Police Department. But when Chicago Police Department start being the ones who's destroying our children, hurting them and shooting them—who do we go to then? So I want to deliver my letter to the president. I want to ask him to ask Mr. Perez to come here to Chicago to investigate to find out if Emanuel ordered to shoot to kill our children in the streets of Chicago. It has to stop. It has to stop now. My grandson is hurting, he's in pain. He's a child—he should not be a victim of a gunshot wound.
I'm a grandmother that's distraught. My daughter's distraught. I mean, "how much more?" I have more grandsons—are they going to be shot? Are children in Chicago going to be shot down? I've heard it said, "He missed the curfew." But you don't have a curfew if you're out with adults and with your family. But even if he was alone—are you going to shoot all the kids of Chicago that break the curfew? I thought they were supposed to get taken home and get a ticket. I want to know, "What has Emanuel done? What has Rahm Emanuel done in the city of Chicago?" Was this a gag order that was delivered before he was put in office? Or is he enforcing on what was already done? Is he putting in new orders to kill our children? How long are you all going to stand back and watch our children die through the streets of Chicago?
You are supposed to protect our children. We do not want our children to die by your hands. Our children are supposed to bury us, we are not supposed to bury our children. There are too many mothers that are suffering today, lost in their minds because their children are the victims of the Chicago Police Department. If they are not shooting our children they are beating them.
I want to ask you, "Is it a gag order just against Black kids? Are you just going to shoot the Black kids in Chicago? How many times are our kids going to fall victims in the streets?" I mean they have everyone to look out for. Is this a new slavery? Is this a NEW SLAVERY? IS THIS A NEW SLAVERY FROM THE CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT?
Patricia Hill, Executive Director of the African American Police League, and co-convener of the International Year of People of African Descent (IYPAD Chicago).
2011, which has been proclaimed the International Year for People of African Descent by the United Nations, has manifested thus far as a record-breaking year for people of African descent being shot and killed by Chicago Police Department. According to media reports at least 42 persons—all African American males—have been shot by Chicago police officers within the first eight months of the year 2011. That is already twice the number of civilians shot by the police in the entire year 2010. With four months remaining in the year 2011 this will undoubtedly be an unprecedented year for violence against the people by the police.
One would think, with the level of technology being what it is today, police departments would incorporate more efficient ways of deterring and apprehending alleged suspects. The standard party line, that while chasing a suspect and without warning the suspect turns and shoots or displays a weapon in the direction of officers, is no longer a credible explanation being offered by the police department. Therefore, human rights organizations in Chicago will be filing a Human Rights Complaint to the high commissioner of the Human Rights council of the United Nations on behalf of the people in Chicago.
It is clear at this point that the people of this city are living under a police state. As a member state of the United Nations the United States, and all of the state and city government agencies that comprise the United States, are obligated to respect and uphold the human rights of all people as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article three states: "Everyone has a right to life, liberty and security of person." Article 5 outlines the following: "No one shall be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment."
We are of the opinion that the Chicago Police Department has assumed the position as an armed, municipal militia in the communities and neighborhoods that are predominantly inhabited by people of African descent. The rules of engagement that would ordinarily apply domestically seem to have been abandoned in these communities. An atmosphere of an occupying force exists in these communities. In a participatory democracy, in a member state of the United Nations, this status is unacceptable.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
Some of the STOLEN LIVES in JUNE & JULY in CHICAGO
Jimmell Cannon and Joe Banks were repeatedly shot by Chicago police but both are still alive as of this writing. Many of the other 42 shot by police died of their wounds. A brief picture of only a few of the people murdered by police this summer:
June 7, 2011. Police kill Flint Farmer in a hail of bullets. They said that they thought his cell phone was a gun. There were immediate protests in the neighborhood and a big outpouring at his funeral, which concluded with his father who is a pastor calling on everyone in attendance to hold up their phones and say: "Don't shoot, officer. It's a cell phone. (See "Justice for Flint Farmer! Jail the Chicago Cops Who Killed Him!" in Revolution #237, June 26, 2011.)
June 13, 2011. Pedro Gonzalez, 21, was standing by a street memorial mourning the death of a 15-year-old friend when he was gunned down by the police. After the murder, Chicago Tribune headlines screamed: "Another Shooting on A Violent Block—this Neighborhood is Bad." Pedro's father told the press he had no idea why his son, who he described as a 'dorky kid,' was gunned down by the police.
July 11, 2011. JonRynn Avery, 23, is chased by police through a glass door to his apartment building. Police drive family members out of the house and let Avery bleed to death. Police had made Avery's life a living hell before they killed him.
July 14, 2011. Mark Haynie, 17, dies in police custody after being severely beaten.
July 17, 2011. Niko Husband, 19, killed coming out of a club with his arm around his girlfriend. He was shot while convulsing on the ground as a result of being tasered.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
100,000 Run for Special Issue on BAsics
Roughly two years ago the Revolutionary Communist Party launched a campaign, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." We set out three objectives: making revolution—communist revolution, as it has been re-envisioned by Bob Avakian—broadly known to people; making Avakian himself—the Chairman of this Party and leader of the revolution—a household word; and bringing forward cores of people who would be initiators of a new stage of communist revolution.
Before getting into where we're at in those objectives—and before beginning, in this issue, to lay out some important new ideological and political offensives within this campaign—let's go back to WHY we undertook this. What is the great need this campaign aims to fulfill?
It is not as if people think things are just great; what has developed over the past 35 years, since the last high tide of revolution was defeated, has been an ever-deeper nightmare. Lives of agony and utter horror in most regions of the world; and even in the so-called "prosperous" parts—where tens of millions now wake up each day without work or, increasingly, even hope of work and with many facing harassment and worse by police when they step out their door—there is deepening misery, bleak hopelessness toward the future, and a numb desperation. The ugly ways this all plays out in people's daily interactions in every corner of the planet—the predatory ways people treat and lash out at each other, the twin dominance of market mentality and Dark Ages religion of one kind or another—are as familiar as the remote to your tv or the battered woman next door. Increasingly, even as fascist movements run wild and government repression increases, there is resistance; but as of yet this is resistance that is cut off from a viable vision of fundamental change.
In the middle of a situation that should cry out for revolution, it is simply off the map in most people's thinking. Why? To understand that, we have to go back some years, to when revolution DID seem a living and desirable possibility, not just to a handful but to literally billions of people. At that point, more than anything it was the People's Republic of China, led by Mao Tsetung, that inspired people all over the world. Revolutionary China from the 1950s to the mid-'70s was a society locked in struggle, but one that was clearly on the road to emancipation. Mao had warned that it would be easy to rig up a new kind of capitalism in China. He led and mobilized people to struggle against those forces who would do so, and to understand more deeply the roots in society from which such forces grow. But, as the Manifesto from our Party—Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage—points out, shortly after Mao's death in 1976, those very forces "succeeded in carrying out a coup—wielding the army and other organs of the state to suppress revolutionaries, killing many, many thousands, and imprisoning many more—and proceeded to restore capitalism in China. This was, unfortunately, a living demonstration of the very danger that Mao had so sharply pointed to, and whose basis he had so penetratingly analyzed." The fact that the rulers of China still proclaim it socialist—when capitalist relations and values run rampant in their most brutal and flagrant forms—only provides the note of bitter irony to defeat.
The Manifesto goes on to say that:
With the revisionist coup and the restoration of capitalism in China, following after the rise to power of revisionists in the Soviet Union 20 years earlier, the first wave of communist revolution came to an end. In the basic and plain language of our Party's Constitution: "it has now been decades since the revolutionary proletariat held power in any country—whatever the labels, there are no socialist countries today."
What is more, this setback for socialism and the cause of communism—and the demise of the Soviet Union itself, long after it had actually ceased to be a socialist country—has led to a shark-like frenzy among reactionary forces which all along have hated, to the depths of their heartless beings, the communist revolution and the radical transformation of society it embodies, and which have consistently sought, by whatever means they could, to contribute to the defeat and destruction of this revolution. They have further intensified their efforts to pile as much dirt as they can on communism and the liberating transformation of society that it represents—distorting and slandering this revolution in a relentless ideological assault, in the effort to see that it will never rise again; proclaiming the capitalist system as irreversibly triumphant; painting the dream of a radically different and better world—and specifically the communist revolution aiming for that world—as a nightmare, and picturing the real and seemingly endless nightmare of this present system as the highest embodiment of human possibility.
This then is one side of the situation we face.
But the other side is this: we actually have answers for what people face—the only real answers—and we have the leadership to make those answers real, if people take those answers up and follow that leadership. This leadership is concentrated in Bob Avakian, and the Party he leads. To again quote the Manifesto:
In [his] body of work and method and approach, in the new synthesis brought forward by Bob Avakian, there is an analogy to what was done by Marx at the beginning of the communist movement—establishing in the new conditions that exist, after the end of the first stage of the communist revolution, a theoretical framework for the renewed advance of that revolution. But today, and with this new synthesis, it is most emphatically not a matter of "back to the drawing board," as if what is called for is throwing out both the historical experience of the communist movement and the socialist societies it brought into being and "the rich body of revolutionary scientific theory" that developed through this first wave. That would represent an unscientific, and in fact a reactionary, approach. Rather, what is required—and what Avakian has undertaken—is building on all that has gone before, theoretically and practically, drawing the positive and the negative lessons from this, and raising this to a new, higher level of synthesis.
The Message and Call for this campaign makes the further point that:
[Bob Avakian] played the key role in founding our Party in 1975, and since then he has continued the battle to keep the Party on the revolutionary road, to carry out work with a strong revolutionary orientation. He has deeply studied the experience of revolution—the shortcomings as well as the great achievements—and many different fields of human endeavor, through history and throughout the world—and he has brought the science and method of revolution to a whole new level, so that we can not only fight but really fight to win. Bob Avakian has developed the scientific theory and strategic orientation for how to actually make the kind of revolution we need, and he is leading our Party as an advanced force of this revolution. He is a great champion and a great resource for people here, and indeed people all over the world. The possibility for revolution, right here, and for the advance of the revolution everywhere, is greatly heightened because of Bob Avakian and the leadership he is providing.
The two years since the campaign was launched have seen further—and dramatic—evidence of this. In just the past year there has been the incredible pathbreaking (and intellectually audacious) achievement of the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal); there is the new talk "Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon"; there is the statement "On the Strategy for Revolution," published by our Party in the spring; and there has been—and this we will return to—the publication of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, which can play a role analogous to the Red Book1 for a new generation of revolutionaries... and can potentially familiarize thousands and eventually millions more with "the basics" of how the world can be changed.
This is the agonizing irony of the time we live in: never has the need for communist revolution seemed more acute; never has the vision and plan for such a revolution been more viable; the leadership for such a revolution is there; but never has the prospect of revolution itself seemed more distant to people in their masses. As it was put in a speech at conferences on this campaign over a year ago, "This revolution—the REAL revolution, the communist revolution—is fighting for its life. That's right, fighting for its life. And not just to survive, as some kind of abstract hope that might as well be a religion—but to survive and grow as a real contending force, increasingly mobilizing people to fight the power, and preparing people to SEIZE the power as part of conquering and transforming the whole world."
These are the crossroads at which we stand. Two years into this campaign we find ourselves not only with the important new works listed above, but also having done some very important things—accomplishments and "new shoots" that are significant in their own right and important to build off—which have made real changes in the political and ideological terrain, developed new ties, and provided deeper lessons in how to understand and transform the world, for revolution. But two years into this campaign—we are still fighting for our lives.
If we don't understand those stakes—and constantly return to and deepen our understanding of them—then we are NOT going to be oriented in a way that can lead to the real gains that humanity is depending on. Or to look at it from the other angle: the more deeply that we understand those stakes—which, after all, express and flow from a deep analysis of the material reality we confront—the better able we will be to identify, seize on and transform the pathways that do in fact exist within that (very difficult) material reality.
One major potential pathway for change is BAsics. The letters that we have been running in Revolution newspaper give a glimmer of what this book makes possible; the new things brought into being around the April 11 celebration on the occasion of its publication, which we have also covered here, brought these possibilities to life in a stunning, exhilarating way. As one letter said, "BAsics is a distillation of the most advanced and comprehensive understanding on the planet of why the world is the way it is and the fact that it doesn't have to be this way... it is a vehicle through which great numbers of people can be newly introduced to this understanding, and to the person who developed that understanding." And it will also be the key training manual for those thousands who today must work to influence millions, preparing for the day when they will LEAD those millions to actually carry the revolution through.
But there are still far too few who even know about the book, let alone who own it and are "living with" it. We aim to change that with a number of initiatives this fall. This week we are going to talk about one of these: a major push, in two weeks, to make BAsics a major deal on some key college campuses, as well as some high schools.
On August 23, we will be publishing a special 8-page all-color issue of the paper that will introduce people to BAsics. The issue will focus on quotes from BAsics, and quotes from different people who have read BAsics and have something to say about it. We will print 100,000 of these and take the next several weeks—with a major emphasis on the weeks from August 24 to September 7—to get them out in a massive way, mainly focused on college campuses, though with some emphasis as well on high schools. We plan to get these out for free, saturating areas and jump-starting a process whereby tens of thousands of youth are introduced to Bob Avakian—raw and uncut—and where different levels of engagement with what he's all about and what he has to say can get underway. One big part of this must be a significant number of actual sales of BAsics itself, so that people's engagement can deepen and grow richer over time.
The scene would be this: people in teams, with a real spirit, massively getting out the materials... as well as individuals, leaving them around all over and getting these out to knots of students. Quotes up everywhere—including learning from the University of Chicago experience of posting them in bathroom stalls. People speaking in classes at the invitation of teachers... and students. Several hours of this... and then take an hour or two or more to engage and listen, to learn what students are thinking—and not just about what we are bringing them, but the whole way they are seeing things.
Again, the point: thousands, no tens of thousands, of students by the time the leaves turn having not just heard about and been exposed to this work but, in many cases, beginning to engage it, to learn about the leader who brought it forward, and to make contact, in different ways, with the movement for revolution he's leading.
This is critically important. The campuses should be a real strength of the movement for revolution. They should be places where students are debating and wrangling over these ideas and daring to dream how the world could be radically different. They should be places which infect the whole society with ferment over ideas more generally. They should be sites of political struggle and upheaval... of cultural revolt... of philosophic debate... of pioneering new relations between people ... of young people demanding the truth, and insisting on living by it.
Instead, today, in all too many ways they are not. A June 23, 2011 article in Adbusters—"Mein Kampus," by Darren Fleet—laid it out very starkly:
There was a time not so long ago when students used to reach out for help with a particular life crisis: a broken relationship, the death of a loved one, difficulty with a major decision. Today, however, students are complaining that their life is the crisis, an all-pervasive sense of bleakness about themselves and their future that didn't exist a generation ago. This transition from the incidental to the total is nothing short of a socialized paradigm shift, one that has transformed higher learning from a space of exploration and freedom to a prison of the mind. Fueled by stress, anxiety, pressure and competition, many of today's students are struggling not only to learn but also to survive.
Fleet goes on to detail the tremendous demand on campus mental health services, and then comes to this conclusion:
These results indicate what happens when the dominant economic ideology of the age, neoliberalism, creeps into the mentality of science and arts. The campus isn't a place to study Heidegger anymore. Nor is it a place to query the relative nature of the Bohr atom. It is a place to get a leg up on the competition, and competition is fierce. This is a place to cheat when you can, to choose easy courses with easy professors, to trade learning for sycophancy, to deliberately ask one question per class, regardless of interest, for that extra participation grade and to escape into private and isolated worlds when the curve determines only 20 percent are allowed to get that coveted A. In a generation, the message has changed. This is not a place to find your self anymore; this is not a cultural rite of passage; this is a cultural requirement. From students' first application signature to the day they toss their cap and gown, the new message is clear: a four-year BA will not be enough; one foul grade could ruin your chances at graduate school and consequently your life. This message is snuffing out our brightest minds.
This description is all too accurate. Yet beneath the surface, and in response to this, there are yearnings and stirrings for something radically different that cannot find air to breathe without what we are bringing. BAsics being powerfully in the mix will draw these sentiments to the surface and begin to challenge the dominant ethos and culture with some certitude that things should not be—and don't have to be—this way. These campuses badly need shaking up. These campuses sorely cry out for the movement for revolution. These campuses are way past ready, whether the students know it right now or not, for... BAsics.
In next week's paper we are going to run more concrete ideas on HOW this could and should go down—and we would like to hear your ideas on this soon to feed into these plans. We will also get into some ideas on forms for ongoing engagement on the campuses. Again, your thinking and input on this: most welcome, most needed. We want especially to hear from students and recent students—including those who may have checked out the movement for revolution for a time and decided to step away from it, at least for a while. Why?
There are things to mine from what has been done already around BAsics—and we should be thinking about this, and looking over past issues of this paper in this light—and there are new things to dream up and do.
But right now we want to emphasize actually using the next two weeks to prepare people for this undertaking. Doing this right requires the "inner core" of revolutionaries to reach out very broadly. We cannot do this alone. And we don't have to, either. There are many people who would want to contribute to this bold vision of dramatically introducing BA to this generation of students—and we will need a good $10,000 just to print and ship the papers for that issue.
Here we must insist again that fund-raising is not just a necessity—which it is!—but a great way to enable people to support the movement for revolution, to feel —and to really be—part of changing the world. We should, as we get this issue, be thinking of the professors and other campus-connected people we know... of all those who would love to see today's youth massively exposed to something better, something loftier, something more radical than they are right now... of all those who have found themselves drawn to BAsics, on whatever level and in whatever way. And let's make it fun, too—what about potlucks or parties to raise money and maybe have a little bit of that "culture of revolt against a revolting culture" in the house too?
There are also many people who, if we explain to them the point and purpose of this effort, would gladly and creatively find ways to get this paper out themselves. Several years back, when we put out a special issue on Chairman Avakian, "The Crossroads We Face, The Leadership We Need" (#84, April 8, 2007), we found many people who didn't ordinarily participate in getting out the paper, or even in other activities, who wanted to be part of this. It ran the gamut from putting papers in small businesses they owned to getting them out in classes they taught to putting them around different neighborhoods and community centers to just flat-out standing on the corner and getting them out... The point: we should go to people right now to let them get in on this—and it wouldn't hurt to set up meetings at bookstores or other venues, closer into different communities, where people could get into what we're doing here and why, and then brainstorm about ways to do it with pizzazz and panache, and get organized.
One big thing: a lot of students on the campuses, including a lot of the campuses where we should be focusing efforts, have no contact with the people on the bottom of society. And, of course, vice versa. Let's shake that up, too—let's invite people who are with the revolution who don't normally go out of the neighborhoods onto campus as part of this effort, and let's give them a chance to tell students what it's like to live in the hellholes of America.
So... let's get started. And stay tuned for next week... and the weeks after ... as we get more deeply into this.
Get In, Get Out... and Get Connected!
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
Posted August 9, 2011
The decades-long massive incarceration of Black people, along with other people of color, is an outrage that should shock the conscience of the world. It shows the utter illegitimacy of the system. 2.4+ million people are in prisons across the country, the overwhelming majority of them Black or Latino, because the system has criminalized large sections of people and not because these people are criminals. As a revolutionary communist, I stand with Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) who has said, "There will never be a revolutionary movement in this country that doesn't fully unleash and give expression to the sometimes openly expressed, sometimes expressed in partial ways, sometimes expressed in wrong ways, but deeply, deeply felt desire to be rid of these long centuries of oppression [of Black people]. There's never gonna be a revolution in this country, and there never should be, that doesn't make that one key foundation of what it's all about." (Quoted from Basics, 3:19)
This injustice is accepted by society because it is carried out under the appearance of color blindness, and that must stop.
A whole lot is at stake in whether we succeed to build a determined movement of resistance to this incarceration. Mass incarceration is a huge attack on the masses, especially on oppressed nationality masses. 100,000's are jailed for simple possession of banned drugs. People in prison are subjected to horrible conditions. The pipeline leading to this warehousing in prison includes inner-city educational systems that are geared to drive millions of youth to drop out and a criminal justice system that treats a whole generation of youth like potential criminals, guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive to prove that innocence. It includes racial profiling by police, gang injunctions and discrimination in the courts.
And after release, millions of people are stamped with a badge of deprivation and shame. Denied job opportunities, access to public housing, food stamps, government loans for education, the right to vote, and more. All this is the result of conscious policies adopted by the ruling class.
This horrific racially targeted massive incarceration is a consequence of not having made revolution in the '60s. The revolutionary upheaval of that period rocked the ruling class back on its heels, but it didn't seize power from them. Having ridden those storms out, and conscious of the role the uprisings of Black people played in spearheading that and their potential for sparking future upheaval, the ruling class has moved to viciously suppress that potential before it can manifest itself—counter-insurgency before the insurgency.
If things are allowed to continue on this trajectory, the reality of millions of the oppressed penned up in the ghettos and barrios without opportunity or hope will intensify. Going in and out of jail will remain a rite of passage for millions of oppressed youth, many of whom already look to their immediate future and can see nothing more than prison or death. This is slow genocide and, given the sharp divisions in the ruling class and the building up and unleashing of outright fascist forces, it could easily become fast genocide.
This massive incarceration is accepted by most of society as just, as the result of criminal activity by those who end up in jail. Those who are aware of the racial disparity in who gets incarcerated mostly accept that as well, seeing it as reflecting that "those people" commit more crimes. Even those masses who are most directly hit by this incarceration are affected by the chorus of "it's your own damn fault" that comes at them from every sector of society. This is because this extreme oppression is being perpetrated under a cloak of apparent equality. There are no longer laws on the books that say it's illegal for Black people to do this or that. The forms thru which the Black masses were held down under the old Jim Crow have been largely done away with. It appears that Black people have a certain equality of opportunity, so those who don't make it and end up being ground down by the system are thought to be responsible for their fate. This appearance/essence contradiction needs to be broken thru on.
If the rationalizations for this mass incarceration could be broken thru, a determined movement of resistance to this horrific injustice could be brought forward. This could dramatically transform the political terrain. Those who do suffer this could throw off the 'blame the victim' justification and stand up and resist. People who don't directly face this could see it for the injustice that it is and join in the resistance. The way in which being saddled with convictions, parole and probation, or the threat of them, holds many of the youth back from even considering joining in resistance could be busted thru. The feeling on the part of the oppressed that they're alone in the struggle could be addressed by both building resistance among the basic masses and rallying youth and others from the middle strata to join in.
What is key to bringing a determined movement of resistance to mass incarceration into existence? People have to change their thinking about incarceration—millions no longer accepting the justifications for this and millions of the oppressed also breaking with thinking there's nothing to be done about it and/or it's really their own fault. In particular, some big transformation on the matter of the appearance of equality and the related fact that most people, including many of the oppressed, feel incarceration is driven by crime. And because of this, accept it as justified. But this can't be accomplished by exposure alone, or by a focus on exposure around how unjust this is. Much more exposure is needed, and the work done by Michelle Alexander and others remains important. But the key to changing people's thinking about incarceration comes down to unleashing and guiding a mass movement that engages in determined resistance to the outrage of mass incarceration. This movement needs to be aimed at making this a dividing line question in society, one that everybody has to look at, re-evaluate and develop an opinion and a stand on.
Here the experience of the Freedom Riders in the 1960's is instructive. The brutality and indignity of Jim Crow segregation had been in effect for decades. Although there had been important outbreaks of resistance to it, most Black people accepted its horrors as foul shit you just had to put up with. The reality of what Black people were forced to endure was under the radar screen for many whites, and those who were aware of them either eagerly supported them, or were taken in by the rationalizations given for enforcing these conditions on Black people. It took the dramatic actions of a relative handful of courageous resisters to put this situation onto society's front burners and force people take a stand on it. The same will be needed today in relation to mass incarceration and all that it entails.
In this light, the importance of the hunger strike now being waged by prisoners in California must be emphasized. This hunger strike has pushed the outrages of what is done to prisoners into the minds of millions who formerly either never knew about it or gave it a thought, and it has inspired thousands of others to rally to their support. This strike must be supported and used as a springboard for further struggle.
This is the way to get people to think about this deeply and begin to think differently about it. (There's also a global aspect to this. The US still goes around the world, lecturing other countries on freedom and democracy and crowing about the freedoms it affords to its people. A determined movement of resistance targeting the massive and racially disproportionate incarceration the US enforces would lay bare the injustice suffered by so many of the oppressed in this so-called leader of the free world.)
There is a real basis to bring this mass movement of resistance into existence! Something significant is happening right now that needs to, and can, be tapped into. 100's are coming out to hear Michelle Alexander speak about this issue, large numbers of people are reading her book and some of them are recommending it to others and forming study groups around it. The 100's who've come to the dialogues between Cornel West and myself on the theme of "What Future For Our Youth?" include many, many people who gasp when they hear of what's being done to basic masses by the criminal injustice system and who respond positively to the call for people to stand up and resist all this. Something is afoot here. Not that the majority of people have changed their thinking on this, or are even all thinking about this. But a critical mass of people are changing their thinking, and many are ready to be part of doing something about this horrific injustice. This critical mass needs to be forged and unleashed into a movement resisting this outrage in a determined way. Thru doing this, the political terrain can be dramatically affected.
The social base for such a movement has several components: those who suffer this directly—those in prison, former prisoners, their family and friends. Such people are largely basic masses, but many middle strata Blacks also fit into this category, having family and friends who are in and out of prison. (John Edgar Wideman wrote on this in both his Pittsburgh-based fiction and in a memoir.) The same is true for other oppressed nationalities. There are significant numbers of white youth who are already horrified by what they know about the warehousing of so many people in prison and can be won to join in resisting it. And many more from all sections of society could be won to oppose this if they could see thru the justifications to the underlying horrific reality. There are many professionals whose work puts them in contact with masses who suffer this—teachers, social workers, attorneys, others—who see the humanity in these masses and could be won to join in the resistance. Several of the panelists at Michelle Alexander's Riverside event were people who worked on re-entry of formerly incarcerated people. Sometimes people involved in this work are themselves former prisoners.
Students and prisoners can play important roles in breaking this resistance movement loose—both are important, and there's a potential synergy here. Historically, students have been the first section of society to step out and fight injustice, and they will need to play this role in this effort. If things are left to the basic masses to shoulder the responsibility of kicking this movement off, it won't happen because these masses already feel alone in this fight and think they have no chance of winning.
At the same time, there are many, many prisoners who want to be a part of changing the direction of things in society. The prisoners who have engaged in significant resistance in recent months—the California prison hunger strikers, prisoners in Georgia and Ohio—number in the 1000's. There are 100's of prisoners who receive Revolution newspaper regularly and many write to the paper about the influence that reading the writings of Bob Avakian and other articles in the paper have had on them. These prisoners can play an important role in reaching out to other masses, both others on the bottom of society and many in the middle class, and awake them to this injustice and inspire them to join in the resistance. These prisoners are among the many, many people this system has classed as subhuman and not worthy of consideration. The letters some of these prisoners write to Revolution Newspaper and the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund can put the lie to this and make real the potential for people criminalized by this society to transform themselves and get with the emancipators of humanity. Their examples can reach the hearts of students who are disturbed by the state of the world today and draw them into the fight on this front.
There need to be points where this new movement comes together for action—like supporting the heroic hunger strike of the prisoners in California and taking to the streets to mark 40 years since the Attica Rebellion. And then to join in the effort to unleash powerful determined resistance to mass incarceration in the lead-up to the October 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. As an example, in New York the Network to Stop Mass Incarceration has called for a day of No Stop & Frisk in the days leading up to October 22nd. These must not be the usual, routine actions; the situation is too urgent for that. The Network to Stop Mass Incarceration is also working on a statement of conscience condemning racially targeted mass incarceration that will be signed by prominent people in the arts and sciences, the clergy, etc. from all over the world. The aim of this statement will be to contribute to dramatically changing the way people look at the way so many people are warehoused in US prisons.
Demands need to be drawn up that can both rally people to stand with this effort because they can see the justness of what's being called for and serve as focal points for fighting to stop the shit the powers-that-be are doing. The overall theme of this movement needs to be calling for an End to Mass Incarceration. We should develop a theme for it that calls it out as a racially targeted method of social control. Forces involved in taking on the various aspects of racially targeted mass incarceration have developed demands that get at much of the reality of mass incarceration. Here is my contribution to what the demands need to be:
Other demands could focus in on the way the criminal justice system targets the oppressed:
Other demands would focus on the stigma and denial of rights people face when they're released:
Coming out of the Session, it may be necessary to assemble a commission to sort thru the demands raised by various forces to develop a focused list of demands that can broadly characterize and concretize the reality of mass incarceration in an overall way. Then these demands can be promoted thru the various initiatives taken up to focus the attention of society broadly on the injustice of racially targeted mass incarceration; at actions of mass resistance, at forums and teach-ins, etc.
I will close with a quote from a statement issued two years ago by the RCP titled, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have:" "The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people here and all over the world...when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness...those days must be GONE. And they CAN be." What we do coming out of the Stop Mass Incarceration Strategy Session needs to be approached as contributing to taking concrete steps to end those days!
If you know someone who would want to get involved in this effort to unleash determined mass resistance to racially targeted mass incarceration, or if you'd like to get involved yourself, contact us at: email@example.com.
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
Revolution Interviews Raymond Lotta:
Posted August 1, 2011
Revolution: Raymond, we're speaking just as President Obama and congressional leaders on the Democratic and Republican sides have reached a tentative agreement that would cut trillions of dollars in federal spending in the next ten years. Congress will soon vote on raising the debt ceiling. There are many important questions to get into, but let's start with some basics. What is the debt ceiling?
Raymond Lotta: The debt ceiling is the limit imposed on how much money the federal government can borrow to finance its existing spending obligations. Such spending includes military expenditures, programs like Medicaid and Medicare, government administration and salaries, and repayment of principal and interest on debt held by investors in U.S. Treasury securities. Raising the debt ceiling allows the government to borrow more money. When the government spends more than it takes in as revenues, the difference is the deficit.
The national debt is over $14 trillion. This is the debt accumulated to underwrite past budgetary deficits.
The debt ceiling is raised when the government runs out of funding to meet its obligations. If the government is not able to pay creditors, then you have a default.
Revolution: Why is government debt so large?
Lotta: Three factors are driving the huge run-up in government debt of the last few years.
The first is the severe contraction of the economy in 2008-09. The slowdown in economic activity led to a steep decline in government revenues. And continuing sluggishness of the economy has lowered the amount of taxes the government collects and increased the amount of money the government spends on things like extensions on unemployment benefits, food stamps, and so forth.
Second, the tax cuts adopted under Bush in 2001 and 2003 put limits on the amount of taxes the government can take in.
Third, America's imperial wars of conquest in Afghanistan and Iraq have swelled the deficit. In the last decade, the U.S. spent over $1 trillion on these wars. The military occupation of Afghanistan, as it widened under Obama, costs about $2 billion a month.
Military expenditure is one of the "dirty little secrets" of this fiscal crisis. It doesn't get talked about. Nor its real scale. If we take the 2012 budget, plus supplemental funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, military outlays amount to about $700 billion. But this is not an accurate picture of military-security expenditure. It's really much higher, about $1.2 trillion, or close to 40 percent of the budget, when you factor in things like CIA and National Security Agency expenditures, nuclear weapons research by the Department of Energy, payment on debt from past wars and weapons systems. All this to maintain U.S. dominance over the planet.
And just as the debt and budget debate was beginning to heat up in Congress, Obama opened a new military front—in Libya.
The federal deficit of the U.S. is now about 9 to 10 percent of the gross domestic product... which is about three times the average of the last 30 years.
Revolution: So these are the main drivers of the debt. But then there's the whole debate going on.
Lotta: People look at this in a certain way, and people have a lot of misconceptions. It's no accident. The media, politicians, and so-called experts have framed this in a certain way—and many people have gotten sucked in. I'm talking about the idea that there's a selfish "partisan divide" in Washington that has to be bridged for "greater good of the country." I'm talking about the mantra from Obama that everyone has to equally sacrifice for the greater good of the country, and that the wealthy have to pay their fair share of taxes—and this populism had a certain appeal for a while. There's the chauvinist declaration that it would be awful to "America's standing" if it defaulted on its debt.
All these notions are either not true at all or don't really get to the essence of what's really going on here. People don't really understand what the Republicans and Democrats agree and disagree on and what they are fighting over. And I have to make it clear right at the outset that this "compromise" agreement that they came up with—was a compromise between two programs that were BOTH not in the interests of the people.
Revolution: So what is the essence of what is going on?
Lotta: The struggle over the debt ceiling is an expression of deep problems confronting U.S. imperialism. I am speaking of the effects of the crisis in the world economy... an international economic environment in flux... and real budgetary constraints and contradictions bound up with the vast accumulation of government and private debt.
At the same time, powerful ruling class forces have used the specter of default to continue and intensify an unprecedented attack on government social spending on things like education and health and so-called entitlement programs, like Social Security. They are seizing on this moment to ratchet up an ideological offensive aimed at rallying public opinion around the idea that "government is living beyond its means," that social spending has gotten out of control, the reactionary argument that we all have to stop making demands on government, that government shouldn't be giving "handouts" to those who don't deserve them, and who are living off the government.
Revolution: The theme of belt-tightening and sacrifice looms large.
Lotta: Sacrifice? When nearly 1 in 6 workers is unemployed, under-employed, or has given up looking for work because jobs are so few... when the average duration of unemployment is now longer than at any time since the end of World War 2.
Sacrifice? The Pew Foundation just released a study on what happened in the 2005-2009 period to the wealth of U.S. households—as measured in homes, cars, savings, and so forth. Black, Latino and other people of color were hit hardest. The net worth of Latino households fell by a staggering 66 percent, and that of African-Americans fell by 53 percent. One-third of Latino and Black families have zero wealth.
The bulk of this wealth loss is the result of the collapse of housing values and the subprime mortgage crisis. Millions of people were lured into seemingly affordable loans. And millions of people wound up defaulting. Mortgage loans tapped into the savings and future earnings of millions of people. The loans were then bundled into exotic financial instruments and sold on global markets.
Here we see the workings of the market. A basic human need, housing, was turned into an object of investment and speculation. And then it came crashing down. Millions of homes are empty—because it's more important for banks to assert their property rights than for people to have housing.
25 million people were looking for full-time work last month. 8-10 million households face foreclosure. Income inequality between white households and Black and Latino households stands at its highest levels in decades. And to now demand of people that they sacrifice to rescue a system that destroys livelihoods, that perpetuates and widens social inequality... it's obscene. Of course, all of this packaged as everyone "doing their share."
Revolution: Clearly, the operating assumption in the debt ceiling debate, and especially now as it appears that a deal has been struck, is that government programs dealing with health, education, housing, and so forth must be slashed.
Lotta: For weeks and weeks we've heard about debt and deadlines. Yet through it all, an entire section of the population has been left out of the discourse: the poor and the unemployed. It's as though, for the ruling class, the word poverty has been expunged from the English language. The number of jobless workers has soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But, to quote the title of a July 9 New York Times article by Catherine Rampell, "somehow, the unemployed have become invisible."
The way things developed, Obama has become the leading champion of fiscal austerity, of huge cutbacks in government spending on social programs. On the bogus high moral ground of "bipartisan compromise," he put before the Republicans a deficit-cutting plan that would add one dollar of new taxes for every four dollars of budget cuts.
Revolution: What about the agreement reached on July 31?
Lotta: From what I've read so far in the press, it seems that the tentative deal will cut three trillion dollars in domestic spending over the next ten years. This includes what's spent by federal agencies. It includes different types of social spending and its early effects will impact education, public housing, mass transit, environmental protection, and the Medicaid program. And then a new wave of cuts will be phased in after the 2012 election.
Revolution: A lot of this will hit the poor very hard.
Lotta: You're right. And let's consider the consequences. In late June the American Journal of Public Health published the results of a very revealing study. It quantified how many deaths are caused by poverty, low levels of education, and other social factors in the U.S. It found that in the sample year of 2000, 176,000 deaths were due to racial segregation and 133,000 deaths were due to individual poverty. These are unnecessary deaths. We're talking about the conditions of housing and work; we're talking about inferior access to health screening, to quality health care; and the inability to get health insurance.
And now with this new debt reduction plan, Medicare and Medicaid cuts are in the offing. What kind of system puts human lives on the chopping block of fiscal austerity? This is the logic of capital. This system cannot act in the interests of the people. It can't because it operates according to the rule of profit above all else.
So there is a move to drastically restructure government spending. People think that Obama has sold out to or caved in to the Republicans. But there is a bipartisan consensus about the need for cuts, even as they have disagreements over how to do this.
Revolution: But we've seen such acrimonious debate over cuts and the debt ceiling.
Lotta: There is a section of the ruling class—mainly right-wing Republicans—who want to go further. They want to dissolve any semblance of a state that engages in spending on social programs. It has very little to do with deficits. I mean Bush raised the debt ceiling seven different times. But getting further into debt wasn't a big deal for these Republicans when it came to financing the U.S.'s wars for greater empire, it was acceptable to push off the revenue loss of the Bush tax cuts into the future by incurring more debt.
Their bristling at "big government" is ideological. It's an attack on the very idea that society has any kind of organized responsibility to the well-being of the people. It is institutionalized callousness: "if you're unemployed, it's your fault;" "no health care, that's your problem."
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece last week that concentrated some of the aspects of the ideological assault being waged by conservative forces. It argued that the issue is not just Obama...the problem goes back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and this so-called "culture of entitlement" and "re-distributionism." And they're arguing that now's the time to settle accounts. The Tea Party gives this a veneer of grass-roots outrage at "government excess."
Bob Avakian's analysis of the "pyramid of power" in the U.S. really sheds a lot of light on what is happening here. You have a situation where the U.S. ruling class is sharply divided at top—again, approximating the Democrats and Republicans. That section of the ruling class roughly corresponding to the Republicans has been on the offensive and moving society in an increasingly fascistic direction. The Democrats sharply differ with Republicans on some of the particulars of how to maintain U.S. global domination and how to maintain "social order at home." But they don't differ on whether to do that... that they have basic agreement on.
This dynamic is at play in ruling class infighting over how to handle the debt. There's intense struggle, with political and ideological agendas as big factors. The Republicans have had the initiative, and they continue to hold it in this debt battle.
Revolution: How do you see the relationship between the ideological assault and the underlying economics of the budgetary crisis?
Lotta: Here I must point out that most progressive and radical critiques are arguing that this whole debt crisis has just been manufactured as a way to push political-ideological agendas. I think this is wrong. It's more complicated than that... but more fundamentally, there IS a global economic crisis which is the larger backdrop to all this.
What is really going on here is that there is a real crisis which is interacting with, and further fueling, an ideological assault bound up with establishing new norms of social control and repression.
It would be wrong to conclude that ruling-class concern over deficits and debt is simply political manipulation. There are real imperatives for capital to cut costs and enhance competitiveness. There are real constraints on expansive government spending. This has to do with capitalism's "rules of the game." This is a system of production for profit based on the exploitation of wage labor. This is a system of competitive accumulation in which the great powers seek advantage and dominance on a global playing field.
Revolution: So let's get deeper into the political economy.
Lotta: We have to step back and put this fiscal emergency in global perspective, and trace the development of the larger global economic crisis.
In late 2008, the private-financial core of U.S. imperialism, I'm talking here about the large transnational banks, was facing collapse. These banks were suffering huge losses on unsustainable loans, they couldn't raise capital, and they were unwilling to lend to others. I can't get into all of this now, but this was an expression of the anarchy of capitalism. You had these banks creating ever-more complex financial instruments to make profits and push risks on to others. Again this was the rules of capitalism at play here and for an analysis of this I would encourage people to look at an article I wrote back in October 2008, "Financial Hurricane Batters World Capitalism: System Failure and the Need for Revolution."
This turbulence threatened to spread and to undermine the global financial system. The U.S. imperialist state as the guardian of the interests of capital stepped in quickly. The Federal Reserve injected huge amounts of capital into the banking system. The state became a creditor, making low-interest loans to the banks. It encouraged mergers and consolidation at the top tiers of the private banking sector. It made it possible for Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America to profitably incorporate, buy out, the assets of failed or failing banks.
There's a strategic dimension here. The U.S. banking system, with its extensive and deep credit markets, and the dollar, which is the main currency in the world economy, are linchpins of U.S. imperial hegemony in the world capitalist system. At the same time, the U.S. faces new challenges, like the emergence of the European Union as a more consolidated bloc, and China as a potential rival.
By 2009, this situation entered a second phase. The financial crisis had developed into a generalized economic downturn affecting the entire world economy. This was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The volume of trade between countries fell sharply. World industrial output fell. The U.S. economy slowed down. You had GM facing bankruptcy. Unemployment shot up.
In response, the Obama administration undertook a spending program that involved government expenditures on goods and services, various infrastructure and energy projects, tax credits, unemployment extensions, and some financial assistance to the states. This was meant to stimulate major growth but it didn't.
Revolution: So this is a complicated picture involving economic developments and conscious policy, informed by ideological and political agendas.
Lotta: The enormity of the financial crisis has continued to pose new challenges to imperialist policymakers. The measures that have been taken have produced new strains on government finance. A big challenge for the ruling class now is to work down debt in a way that does not cause major disruptions to the world economy. It's a very unstable situation. And how the U.S. manages and finances government debt will have big effects on the world economy.
There is the state of the world economy—the fact that it has not recovered from the financial crisis and steep downturn in 2008-09. There are intense competitive pressures in the world economy.
In relation to this deficit battle, people ask, why can't the corporations be taxed more? Well, in the midst of crisis, taxes on huge capitalist corporations that are a key part of the U.S economy and U.S. economic growth can cut in to their ability to gain competitive position and advantage in the global struggle for markets, for new technologies, and their ability to buy out other firms.
But more is going on. This is a world economy in transition; major realignments are taking place in the world economy. This is a huge topic and to get a fuller background and analysis of this, I would encourage people to read the 4-part series I wrote, "Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry." But here I can provide some of the basic contours of this situation.
As the financial-economic crisis hit, China emerged as the second largest economy in the world. It will soon overtake the U.S. as the world's largest manufacturer. China is now the single largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt. Its export earnings, based on super-exploited labor in vast industrial zones, have been recycled into U.S. financial markets. China now has increasing leverage in the world economy.
If China and other large holders of U.S. Treasury debt sense instability and begin to shift out of dollar-based securities into other currencies and investment instruments, this would put enormous pressures on the dollar. It could set off a major flight from the dollar. If foreign creditors saw dangers in holding U.S. long-term debt, the U.S. would have to borrow on a shorter time frame. And this would make the U.S. more vulnerable to financial upheavals and uncertainties.
As I said, the international role of the dollar gives the U.S. enormous advantage and sway in the world economy. At this juncture, no other currency is able to replace the dollar as the world's key currency. But the position of the U.S. dollar is eroding. It faces new competitive threats.
All of this constricts the maneuvering room of U.S. imperialism, while conditioning policy responses and intra-ruling class debate.
What began as a banking crisis has morphed into a long-term government debt crisis in the U.S. and other Western capitalist economies. And the world economy remains in deep economic trouble.
The U.S. imperialists face a major contradiction. They are saddled with huge and mounting debts. The U.S. economy is not growing. Historically, one of the ways this has been dealt with is by increasing government spending with the goal of stimulating the economy. But this results in higher deficits and government debt.
Revolution: We've covered a lot of ground. Do you see more people becoming disaffected with Obama, among those who have been supporting him? And will there be more openness to fundamental change?
Lotta: Over the last year, there has been a growing sense of bitterness and betrayal. I think this budget episode is leading to more of that feeling.This sentiment runs deep among a growing section of people. And it counts for something in the current atmosphere. But where will this go?
This underscores the importance of what Bob Avakian has been bringing forward, that there is no permanent necessity to existing conditions. Things do not have to be this way. The Revolutionary Communist Party has recently published the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). It sets forth an inspiring vision and concrete measures for building a new society. This is a socialist society. This would be an economic system NOT based on exploitation and profit but on meeting the needs of the people, overcoming the great social inequalities of society, protecting the planet, and contributing to the advance of the world revolution. A society aiming for the final goal of a communist world, where human beings everywhere would be free of exploitation and oppression and destructive antagonistic conflicts, where human beings could be fit to be caretakers of this planet.
This vision can play a tremendously powerful ideological role on the current terrain. Projecting this vision is a crucial part of building a movement for revolution that can bring such a new society into being.
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
"It's very important that our supporters know where we stand, and that CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] knows that we're not going to go for any B.S. We remain as serious about our stand now as we were at the start, and mean what we said regarding an indefinite hunger strike peaceful protest until our demands are met. I repeat—we're simply giving CDCR a brief grace period in response to their request for the opportunity to get [it] right in a timely fashion! We'll see where things stand soon enough!"
Todd Ashker, one of the hunger strike leaders at
Pelican Bay Prison, in a letter dated July 24, 2011
Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in California's Pelican Bay State Prison led a three-week hunger strike, from July 1 to July 20, demanding an end to the barbaric, inhumane conditions of solitary confinement.
Leaders of the hunger strike described how this courageous act of resistance sent sparks, not only to other prisons, but to many people on the outside. In a statement dated July 22 they said:
"Many inmates across the state heard about our protest and rose to the occasion in a solid show of support and solidarity, as did thousands of people around the world! Many inmates put their health and lives on the line; many came close to death and experienced medical emergencies. All acted for the collective cause and recognized the great potential for forcing change on the use of SHU units across the country." (See "Declaring a Victory & Ongoing Struggle by the Short Corridor Collective, a small representative of the Hunger Strike Leaders at Pelican Bay," Revolution #241, July 31, 2011.)
This statement explained that the decision to end the strike was made after top level prison administrators met with some of the hunger strike leaders, as well as their mediators, and "agreed to accede to a few small requests immediately, as a tangible good faith gesture in support of their assurance that all of our other issues will receive real attention, with meaningful changes being implemented over time." The statement then goes on to say, "[W]hile the hunger strike is over, the resistance/struggle to end our subjection to (SHU) human rights violations and torture is just beginning!"
It took time for this news to get to other prisons and the hunger strike continued in a few prisons for a while. Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity reports that as far as they know, all of the prisoners who participated in the strike are no longer refusing food. But this struggle is clearly far from over.
In a letter dated July 24, hunger strike leader Todd Ashker says that they are giving the CDCR two to three weeks from July 20 to come up with some substantive changes in response to their five core demands—and that if the CDCR does not follow through, prisoners at Pelican Bay plan to go back on hunger strike. (See "Prisoners at Pelican Bay SHU Announce Hunger Strike," Revolution #237, June 26, 2011, to read the five demands.)
For weeks, even after many of the hunger strikers became dangerously ill, CDCR officials had refused to even consider the prisoners' demands. They denied reports from the prisoners themselves, and their families and supporters, that some of those participating in the hunger strike were in a very critical state and could possibly die. CDCR statements to the press adamantly repeated the lie that the hunger strike was organized by gangs and that the prisoners' demands were unwarranted. The governor of California refused to make any statement about the hunger strike. There was very little coverage of this in the national news.
But the courage and determination of the hunger strikers continued. Support for them grew across the U.S. and internationally. There were protests, press conferences, and organizing meetings. Families with loved ones in prison stepped forward to speak out. Many organizations and individuals wrote statements in support of the prisoners' demands. In response to a call put out by Revolution Books and others, more than 60 prominent people, including well-known actors, intellectuals, artists, and musicians wrote statements supporting the hunger strike.
After weeks of refusing to negotiate and insisting the prisoners are less than human, the CDCR was effectively forced to meet with some of the hunger strike leaders and offer a deal.
The hunger strike shined a damning light on the fact that prisoners at Pelican Bay are being tortured—kept in windowless cells for 23 hours a day, denied human contact, subjected to routine brutal "cell extractions" where they are beaten down by squads of guards. And because of this, many more people also became aware of the fact that tens of thousands of prisoners in maximum security prisons all over the USA are being subjected to the barbaric cruelty of solitary confinement.
In an insightful op-ed piece in the New York Times, titled "Barbarous Confinement," Colin Dayan writes:
"As early as 1995, a federal judge, Thelton E. Henderson, conceded that so-called 'supermax' confinement 'may well hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,' though he ruled that it remained acceptable for most inmates. But a psychiatrist and Harvard professor, Stuart Grassian, had found that the environment was 'strikingly toxic,' resulting in hallucinations, paranoia and delusions. In a '60 Minutes' interview, he went so far as to call it 'far more egregious' than the death penalty."
Leaders of the hunger strike stated that the decision to take this action was not made on a whim. They said, "It came about in response to years of subjection to progressively more primitive conditions and decades of isolation, sensory deprivation and total lack of normal human contact, with no end in sight. This reality, coupled with our prior ineffective collective filing of thousands of inmate grievances and hundreds of court actions to challenge such blatantly illegal policies and practices... led to our conclusion that a peaceful protest via hunger strike was our only available avenue to expose what's really been going on here in CDCR-SHU prisons and to force meaningful change."
Indeed, for those who already knew about the inhumane horror of solitary confinement, it presented a real necessity, as well as an opportunity, to stand with the prisoners, support their demands and build a much bigger and growing movement against the inhumanity of solitary confinement. And for those who didn't know about the fact that torture is being carried out every single day in U.S prisons... now, they know... and now, they can't say, "I didn't know."
The courageous action of the prisoner hunger strikers brought the atrocity of solitary confinement to the light of day. A much broader section of society became aware of the fact that many prisoners are put in such conditions not because of any crime, but simply because prison authorities had "validated" them as gang members. Many more people learned about the CDCR's "debriefing" policy, where one of the only ways to get out of the SHU is to give information (true or false) to validate another prisoner.
Through this struggle, the prisoners broke down a lot of the barriers that have kept them apart; they defied divisions that prison officials foment and use to pit people against each other. At Pelican Bay, and in other prisons as well, the hunger strike united prisoners of different nationalities. In the most isolated and repressive conditions, and in the face of prison officials spreading disinformation, they were able to unite and organize within Pelican Bay Prison and beyond. And they were able to powerfully get their message to people on the outside.
Because of all this, in an even sharper way, people on the outside have now been confronted with the moral responsibility to take a stand, to support the prisoners' demands, and actively join the struggle to put an end to this intolerable situation. These prisoners are demanding to be treated like human beings, asserting their humanity and challenging everyone to respond with their own humanity. As many of the statements written in support of the hunger strike stressed, no human being, no matter what they have done, deserves this kind of treatment. No human being should be tortured.
Supporting Colin Dayan's call to action is a letter sent to me recently by a Pelican Bay Prison hunger striker. In the letter, the hunger striker said he was told in 2001 upon transfer to Pelican Bay that he was "a cancer to be cut out" and that he would "die here one way or another." He said that in 2003 he found mixed in among his legal materials an administrative memo entitled "The Function of the Control/SHU Units." It outlined a plan of attack for administrators to follow.
The memo said "the function is to reduce prisoners to the state of submission essential for their ideological conversion ... that failing, the next step is to reduce them to a state of psychological incompetence sufficient to neutralize them as efficient self-directed antagonists ... that failing, the only alternative is to destroy them, preferably by making them desperate enough to destroy themselves."
Letter to the New York Times editor from Carol Strickman,
staff attorney for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and
staff to the mediation team representing the hunger strikers
Because of the prisoner hunger strike, very ugly things are coming out about what goes on in the USA—things that have been hidden, that have not been widely known. This has presented the U.S. prison system, and the whole system it is part of, with the need to respond. This too, is a significant accomplishment of the hunger strike. And there are indications here of real concern, on the part of ruling class figures, about how the barbarity of solitary confinement is calling into question the legitimacy of the system.
While the New York Times was mainly silent for most of the hunger strike, it ran Colin Dayan's op-ed piece on July 17. And after the strike ended, on July 24, there were four "letters to the editor," under the subhead, "The Inhumanity of Solitary Confinement"—all, agreeing in some way with Dayan's commentary. One letter said:
"When they enter their windowless, fluorescent-lighted workplace through clanging iron gates, lock up inmates behind steel doors with no openings or contours other than a service port and a tiny window of layered fiberglass; and when the tools of their trade are manacles—heavy, solid ones, wrapped and interlocked around wrists, ankles and waist—then one can be sure that eye never meets eye. And no one escapes.
"'Outside,' too, eyes remain averted, with no less effect on the soul. That should haunt us all."
Then on August 1, the New York Times ran an editorial titled "Cruel Isolation" which started out:
"For many decades, the civilized world has recognized prolonged isolation of prisoners in cruel conditions to be inhumane, even torture. The Geneva Conventions forbid it. Even at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, where prisoners were sexually humiliated and physically abused systematically and with official sanction, the jailers had to get permission of their commanding general to keep someone in isolation for more than 30 days.
"So Americans should be disgusted and outraged that prolonged solitary confinement, sometimes for months or even years, has become a routine form of prison management. It is inflicting unnecessary, indecent and inhumane suffering on tens of thousands of prisoners."
The New York Times is the most prestigious mainstream newspaper in the U.S. and represents the views of the liberal section of the U.S. ruling class. And its treatment of the hunger strike reflects real concerns that what is being revealed by this struggle is stirring outrage among broad sections of people, here and around the world, and calling into question the legitimacy of the system itself. Yet there are other forces within the ruling class who staunchly defend what is being done to prisoners and mass incarceration as a whole.
This contradiction was reflected in a recent Supreme Court ruling which condemned conditions in California prisons as cruel and unusual punishment—and was vociferously objected to by the rightwing conservative judges on the court. A dissenting opinion, written by Antonin Scalia, demonized those in prison, railing that the court ruling would release "fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym."
The torture of prisoners in solitary confinement is in sharp conflict with the professed "ideals" of the United States. People living in the U.S. are constantly told they live in the "best, most democratic, most egalitarian country." They're told we now live in a "post-racial" society. They're told these prisoners are the "worst of the worst," deserve what they get and have only themselves to blame for their situation. Especially those in the middle class, but the basic people as well, are influenced by these lies. But when people actually see what the government is doing to its people; how it has demonized and criminalized a whole section of society, especially Black youth; how it is torturing tens of thousands of prisoners—people can begin to question the very legitimacy of "their government."
The U.S. goes around the world claiming to be the "leader of the free world" and model for every other country. Yet, increasingly, the U.S. is becoming known as the leader in torture, from Abu Ghraib to Pelican Bay. And add this to the fact that many people around the world condemn the U.S. for its use of the death penalty, for being the country with the highest rate of incarceration, for carrying out a "war on drugs" that has led to a situation where 2.3 million people are behind bars, mostly Black and Latino.
The outrage of mass incarceration in the U.S. and the inhumanity of solitary confinement say a lot about the system we live under. It is extremely important for growing numbers of people to not only become aware of these crimes of the system—but to build mass political resistance against this intolerable situation. Through this the political consciousness, organization, and fighting capacity of the people can grow. And this can contribute to many more people seeing the complete illegitimacy of the established order of things, understanding it doesn't have to be this way, and joining the movement for revolution, to bring into being a completely different and truly liberating society.
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
On August 1, people in a number of cities across the U.S. rallied and marched in a day of action and solidarity initiated by World Can't Wait and taken up by the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition. The call for the day said the actions were "in support and respect for the courageous prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons all around California, whose July 2011 hunger strike challenged the inhumane conditions of the Security Housing Units ['the SHU'] and inspired the support of people far and wide..."
There was important participation in the San Francisco and Los Angeles actions by families of prisoners at Pelican Bay and other SHUs, as well as former prisoners. One woman whose sons are at the Pelican Bay SHU said that the prison authorities had withheld her letters because she wrote that she and her sister had joined groups supporting the hunger strike. She used her remarks to deliver a message to her sons in case they saw her on TV: "I love you. We're all fighting." Also taking part in San Francisco were Carol Strickman, an attorney who was part of the negotiating team for the hunger strikers; Laura Magnani, Regional Director of American Friends Service Committee and author of a report on solitary confinement in the U.S.; and others active in the struggle for prisoners' rights.
In Los Angeles, families and friends of SHU prisoners were joined by representatives of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), Interfaith Communities United For Justice and Peace (ICUJP), and other organizations that are taking a stand against the torture of prisoners. Two days earlier, some family members and others had been offered an information table by the organizers of L.A. Rising, a major concert of radical bands at the L.A. Coliseum, and talked to hundreds of people.
The following are reports we received from readers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City on the day. They are followed by reports from Chicago and Seattle that appeared on the World Can't Wait website (worldcantwait.org).
More than 50 people gathered in front of the California State Building in San Francisco as part of an International Day of Solidarity and Protest in Support of the Prison Hunger Strikers initiated by World Can't Wait and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. The protest was endorsed by California Prison Focus, SF BayView newspaper, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and Cindy Sheehan.
As the rally began, the MC challenged people to represent for those who are locked down: "What's happened in the last several weeks is historic and the people who made it happen cannot be here today and that's our 2.3 million sisters and brothers that are behind bars." She said the action had two demands: That the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) should meet the five demands of the hunger strike and that there should be no retaliation against the hunger strikers, their supporters, or their families.
Laura Magnani, Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee and author of an important report on solitary confinement in the United States, said: "We have to keep the pressure on. They're hoping that we are going to all go away. They're hoping that it's over. And we're here to say that it's anything but over. This is just the beginning. The real work starts now and it's on us to show that we are not going away, that we haven't forgotten."
Carol Strickman, staff attorney for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and staff to the negotiation team for the hunger strikers, addressed the different channels that supporters of the prisoners are pursuing to get the demands of the prisoners met. "The only way that any of these things can happen is through the power of the people, pushing for the changes to happen and to be enforced," she said.
Jerry, a former prisoner, speaking for Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition, described the conditions in the Security Housing Unit (SHU), from not being able to see the sun or a blade of grass for years to only being able to bathe when portable showers are wheeled in front of one's cell. "We want to say to CDCR and the world that these unjust conditions will not be tolerated anymore," he said.
Four relatives of prisoners also spoke. All began by relating the amount of weight their loved ones had lost during the strike: 38 pounds, 25 pounds, 20 pounds, 18 pounds. And all described different forms of retaliation that their family members had faced.
One woman said that the CDC withheld her letters to her sons because she wrote that she and her sister had joined groups supporting the hunger strike. She used her remarks to deliver a message to her sons in case they saw her on TV. "I love you. We're all fighting," she said
Another woman said that her letters had not been delivered to her sons because they were in Spanish and that their letters to her have also been held for over a month during the hunger strike. "I'm here with my boys, to take care of all of the prisoners, not only my kids but all the kids, all my brothers, my friends, everybody in there, they are a human being like us and they deserve better," she said.
Family members of one of the prisoners who formulated the list of demands of the hunger strike and who has been in the SHU for 15 years, said that he had been transferred to Corcoran (another California prison with a SHU) supposedly for medical attention because his throat had swollen shut, but they suspect that it was out of fear on the part of the prison authorities.
Kiilu Nyasha, a revolutionary journalist and long-time activist for political prisoners and all prisoners, recalled the work of George Jackson, a revolutionary prisoner who was assassinated 40 years ago this month. "I've been waiting 40 years for this," she said of the hunger strike. "There's only one race, the human race, and I salute the prisoners who have broken down these false barriers between them and among them and are coming together in solidarity to fight the prison system."
She described the conditions faced by Hugo "Yogi" Pinnell, a political prisoner who has been incarcerated since 1964 and held in solitary confinement since 1969, the last 20 years in the Pelican Bay SHU. "Yogi hasn't been able to make a phone call or touch another human being, outside of getting handcuffs put on him, for at least 20 years. He hasn't touched his mother since 1973." Kiilu continued, "We have to take collective responsibility for what happens in our society. Being the world's largest incarcerator makes us much less than human. We must regain our humanity and demand an end to neo-slavery, the prison system and torture."
A distributor of Revolution newspaper spoke to the heroic struggle waged by the hunger strike and the links between this important struggle against the inhumanity of solitary confinement and the whole issue of mass incarceration in the USA. "Today, mass incarceration is the leading edge of the oppression of Black people," he said. "The prisoners' hunger strike has exposed to many the complete illegitimacy and hypocrisy of this system—why getting rid of this system is the only way we can get to a whole different kind of society where there will no longer be the living hell of mass incarceration and where the people as a whole can be truly liberated."
A statement in solidarity with the prisoners from the Oakland Education Association, Peace and Justice Caucus, was read. The Revolution Club-Bay Area, Prisoner Activist Resource Center, World Can't Wait, a student from the Black Student Union at Laney College, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and a supporter of Revolution newspaper also spoke.
After the rally there was a march to the building where Governor Brown and the California Attorney General have their offices. A delegation went inside to present them with a copy of statements in support of the hunger strikers by prominent figures in the arts, academia and other areas as well as letters from prisoner families.
Outside, a member of the Revolution Club read a poem by a Nevada prisoner, Ikemba S. Mutulu (Marritte Funches), in support of the hunger strike that had been sent to and published in the BayView newspaper:
They tell you that I'm the monster,
But it's my humanity they seek to take.
Every day that I awake, I break the law.
Every time I pass a book to one of my fellow convicts,
Each time I greet one of my brothers in peace and unity,
Black, brown or white,
This is what they call gang activity
As they pull out their pens and begin to write,
Slap their cuffs on me and slam me in the hole,
Beat me down black and blue.
But I'm the monster, they lie to you.
Supporters plan to step up the fight for the demands of the prisoners. A legislative hearing is scheduled for August 23 in Sacramento on torture and the Pelican Bay SHU, called for by California State Assembly Member Tom Ammiano at the request of supporters of the prisoners. A statewide mobilization is being organized by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity and hunger strike supporters to show mass support. Supporters are also continuing to show support by participating in rolling fasts, writing letters to legislators, getting out information about the strike and the conditions in the SHU, and sending words of encouragement and support to prisoners.
Also, last week, more than 150 religious communities of Roman Catholic nuns mailed in letters of support of the prisoners' requests to the governor of California. Each religious community represents from 100 to 18,000 nuns nationally and internationally. These representatives say: "We are with each of the prisoners and their supporters and loved ones in this struggle and extend our prayers of love, peace and support."
In downtown Los Angeles, families and friends with loved ones in the Security Housing Units at Pelican Bay and other state prisons, including a former prisoner who spent four years in the SHU at Pelican Bay, joined with representatives from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), the Martin Luther King Coalition, readers of Revolution newspaper, and numerous others determined to stop torture. The NRCAT banner read "Torture is a Moral Issue." A group of 50 protested in front of the State Building for two hours and took off on a march through downtown LA, blasting through a bullhorn the five core demands and encouraging others to join.
The families and friends had come from all over Southern California, including Santa Monica, Montclair, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Compton, Lake Perris, Riverside, and Santa Ana. Many of these families have been, for the most part, alone with the knowledge of the horrific reality of their loved ones in the SHU. Only now, with the July hunger strike and support actions, have they come together, joined by others from many sections of society with one voice to demand an end to the long-term isolation and torture.
They told how their loved ones' spirits had been lifted to learn of the protests on the outside and the publicity about the cruel and unusual punishment in the SHU reaching the public at large.
A former Pelican Bay SHU prisoner spoke about his experience in the SHU, including how he watched other prisoners literally go insane. He told people the only way he kept his sanity was that he had a release date, as opposed to an indefinite SHU term. He said he had to be out here for his friends and all those in the SHU today.
One family member who has been extremely active from the beginning of the hunger strike has repeatedly told her story of being denied the right to visit her son for the past 16 years that he's been in the SHU! But on August 1 she announced that prison authorities have suddenly granted her request, and she was going to travel to Pelican Bay that weekend to visit her son!
Leading into the International Day of Protest, on Saturday, July 30, a group of family members and others were offered an information table by the organizers of L.A. Rising, a remarkable musical event that featured Rage Against the Machine, at the L.A. Coliseum. These family members spoke with hundreds of people about the hunger strike at Pelican Bay and California state prisons, the five core demands, and the upcoming International Day of Protest. This was an extraordinary opportunity to reach thousands of progressive and radical young (and not so young!) people.
A group of people from World Can't Wait and distributors of Revolution newspaper gathered at Union Square determined to involve many more to protest and stand in solidarity with the prison hunger strikers. Over the course of 90 minutes, dozens of people stopped to sign letters to California Governor Brown and Secretary Matthew Cate of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, urging them to grant the prisoners' demands; and a number picked up signs and joined us. A particularly dynamic role was played by youth who were passing by and joined the protest. Two South Asian high school students from the Bronx joined us and made up and led chants on the spot. They shouted out, "Torture is a crime against humanity, that is the reality, take a stand in solidarity." A young intern with World Can't Wait talked to about 25 people while gathering signatures for the letters. He reported that many of the people thanked us for being out there.
We held up a banner in support of the Prison Hunger Strike and passed out leaflets to the evening rush hour crowd. People read the five demands, statements of support for the hunger strike, and chanted "Stop Torture in U.S. Prisons" and "Solitary Confinement is Torture."
On August 1, a group of us went to the federal building downtown and unfurled a banner that read: No To U.S. Torture, Here and Everywhere! Support the Demands of the Prison Hunger Strikers!
After staying there for an about an hour, we marched to a busier section of town and did chants in support of the prison hunger strikers. The part of town that we ended up with is in a busy part of city, where there is a lot of tourists and stores. Somebody agitated on the bullhorn about why we were out there and this got attention. People listened to what we were saying about the conditions of the prisoners and others came up to understand more what we were talking about. Some people were shocked about what was going on in the prison. When we explained the conditions in the prisons such as solitary confinement and what that looks like, one woman was listening intently. When we told her that there are people who have been held in these conditions for decades, her jaw dropped. Some people told us that if people didn't want to be tortured they shouldn't go to prison. We replied that no matter what people have done they shouldn't be tortured. When we framed it that way, some people changed what they thought We had an enlarged version of the demands. In making these demands known, people get more of a sense of what the conditions in prison are really like. Some people also had copies of Revolution issue #241, "Prisoners at Pelican Bay End Hunger Strike, The Struggle Continues." This issue had a good centerfold that explained how the real criminals are presidents like Bush and Obama that have started illegitimate wars of aggressions, sanctioned torture, etc.
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
September 9-13 will be the 40th anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion, and the police massacre of 43 prisoners and guards. Forty years ago, the men locked down in Attica rose in rebellion demanding to be treated like human beings. Their heroic actions and the way they conducted themselves showed that people who had been condemned as the "worst of the worst" could rise above the muck and mire, and transform themselves in ways that pointed to the possibility of radical social change. The memory of Attica is something people, especially young people, need to know about today. This legacy counters justifications given for warehousing 2.4 million plus in jails across the U.S. today. It could spark discussion and debate over whether those locked down today are common criminals who deserve to be locked in these dungeons or the victims of a new system of social control.
Important events are being planned to mark this anniversary in New York City:
"Stop Mass Incarceration: We're Better Than This!" Network calls on people to take the memory and the legacy of Attica to the streets of the Harlem community on Tuesday, September 13:
|3:00 pm||Opening rally, St. Nicholas Park, 135 & St. Nicholas Ave.|
|3:30 pm||March from St. Nicholas Park along 135 to Malcolm X Blvd.|
|5:00 pm||Rally, Harlem State Office Bldg., Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. & 125 St.|
|5:40-6:15 pm||Closing rally at Amsterdam Ave. & 125 St.|
For more information write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Day One: Attica is All of Us
Friday, September 9. 2011
7-10 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm)
490 Riverside Drive (enter at 91 Claremont Avenue)
An evening of music, performances and conversation to mark the 40th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion and Massacre and address current prison struggles. Free and open to the public.
Presented by Attica is All of Us and The Riverside Church Prison Ministry, in collaboration with the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, The Culture Project, The Nation, Drug Policy Alliance, and The Brecht Forum.
With...Attica Brothers; Asha Bandele, Drug Policy Alliance, journalist, poet; Baba Amiri Baraka, African-American poet laureate, Pan-African elder statesman, and community activist; Dhoruba Al-Mujahid Bin-Wahad, Consultant, Institute For Development of Pan-African Policy, Ghana, W. Africa; Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Correctional Association; Elizabeth Fink, Attica Brothers Legal Defense; Amy Goodman, host, Democracy Now!; Joseph "Jazz" Hayden, Campaign to End the New Jim Crow; Jamal Joseph, former Black Panther and Chair, Columbia University's School of the Arts Film division; Cornel West, professor, public intellectual and activist.
Day Two: A Message from the Grassroots: Attica is Now
The Riverside Church Assembly Hall
Claremont Ave. (120 & 121 Streets)
2 – 5 pm
Special Guests: Herman & Iyaluua Ferguson, authors of An Unlikely Warrior, Herman Ferguson: Evolution of a Black Nationalist Revolutionary
Speakers and cultural presentations include: Africa Bambaataa (Universal Zulu Nation); Glen Ford (Black Agenda Report); Pam Africa (International Concerned Family & Friends for Mumia Abu-Jamal); Larry Hamm (People's Organization for Progress); attorney Joan Gibbs; George Edward Tait (Harlem poet laureate); Artist King Eric III, former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn; Ralph Poynter (Lynne Stewart Defense Committee); solidarity messages from Lynne Stewart, Mumia Abu Jamal, and Assata Shakur.
For more information contact: email@example.com.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
Posted August 1, 2011
A new documentary film titled The Interrupters opened in New York City on July 28, the first stop on a scheduled theatrical run across the U.S., UK, and Canada. Directed by Steve James (director of Hoop Dreams and other films) and produced by Alex Kotlowitz (author of There Are No Children Here and other books), The Interrupters follows over the course of a year three people who work with the Chicago-based CeaseFire organization. The film focuses on, and will provoke discussion on, the question of violence among the people. We think that the following article, which originally appeared in Revolution #146, October 25, 2008, is an important contribution to that discussion.
* * * * *
Revolution #146, October 25, 2008
Right now, in Black and Latino neighborhoods all over this country, children are being robbed of their childhoods, afraid to go to the corner store or outside to play or to ride the bus to school. Some studies have shown that the number one fear among school children is getting shot. 36 Chicago Public School children have been killed since last September as a result of violence among the people. These shootings come on top of (and are largely used as a justification for) widespread terrorization and brutality on the part of the police, including a recent murderous rampage by the Chicago police who shot 12 people in 4 weeks this summer, 6 fatal and at least 6 shot in the back.
How did we get into this hellish situation where parents watch young children shot down in crossfire, kids grow up haunted by nightmares of gunfire, sure they won't make it past 18? This is a horror for the people—with a feeling of desperation that comes from knowing it's your neighbors, cousins and friends doing this to each other. And it gives rise to a deep despair that this is an endless spiral with no way out.
People from different perspectives are seeking out answers and solutions to this, from research projects to marches to intervention groups. In a New York Times article last May, "Blocking the Transmission of Violence" (5/4/2008), Alex Kotlowitz makes one such argument, likening violence to an epidemic disease plaguing many communities.1 Kotlowitz clearly has great concern for the lives and conditions of the people locked to the bottom of society. But despite his best intentions, his argument concentrates a dangerous logic that reverses cause and effect.
While it is beyond the scope of this article to speak to everything Kotlowitz raises, we want to speak here to his central argument—that stopping the violence among the people is the necessary first step to changing the larger economic and social conditions among the oppressed masses. An underlying assumption in the article is that this can be done without changing the fundamental economic and political relations of society which, as we will go on to show, is the brutal source of this whole situation. This same line of thinking is echoed by many people who hate the ways in which they're forced to live but feel the answer to this is for us to "clean up our own backyard" before there can be any positive change for the communities.
In discussing the position of epidemiologist Gary Slutkin (who, as the founder of the Chicago-based CeaseFire organization, is largely the focus of Kotlowitz' article), Kotlowitz uses an analogy between stopping violence and curing an infectious disease which has a big source in a community's water supply:
"Slutkin says that it makes sense to purify the water supply if—and only if—you acknowledge and treat the epidemic at hand. In other words, antipoverty measures will work only if you treat violence. It would seem intuitive that violence is a result of economic deprivation, but the relationship between the two is not static. People who have little expectation for the future live recklessly. On the other side of the coin, a community in which arguments are settled by gunshots is unlikely to experience economic growth and opportunity."
Kotlowitz himself begins to explore some of the limitations of this argument on one level, but does not go further to examine what is "poisoning the water supply" in the first place. In talking about people who are trying to get out of the logic of gang retribution, he writes, "Leaving town is not an option for most. And for those who have walked away from a shooting...if there are no jobs, or lousy schools, or decrepit housing, what's to keep them from drifting back into their former lives? It's like cholera: you may cure everyone, you may contain the epidemic, but if you don't clean up the water supply, people will soon get sick again."
Kotlowitz does not pose the basic, and necessary question: why are the schools concentrated in the Black and Latino neighborhoods disproportionately "lousy," why is the housing "decrepit," or at this point, nonexistent? And to step even further back, why are Black people concentrated in urban slums in the first place? How did this develop, and what gave rise to a situation where there are now several generations of youth who have been criminalized—killed by the police, killed by each other or warehoused in prisons in the tens and tens of thousands? The violence people commit against each other is the symptom of a larger problem—but if you don't diagnose the problem correctly and if you don't know what caused it, then the treatment you attempt to come up with will actually make it worse.
The oppression of Black people, and other minorities, has been a feature of the development of capitalism in U.S. society from its founding—on the bones of slavery and genocide against Native peoples. After the Civil War and the short period of Reconstruction, instead of being integrated into the larger American society, a wave of terror was unleashed against Black people—they were in the main confined to the plantations in a new form of slavery, and African-American people were formed into an oppressed nation in the south within the larger, dominant Euro-American U.S. In the early 1900s, heavy industry began to greatly expand. In the North, especially with the gearing up for World War 2, the defense industry was booming, creating a demand for labor, while in the South, the mechanization of cotton production (and tobacco before it) made sharecropping less profitable. There was a push and a pull from the South that sent millions of Black people migrating to the North—the push of poverty, Jim Crow racism and KKK terror and the pull of work and hopes for a better life. But while the forms of oppression were different in the North, the fact of the oppression remained. Black workers who were brought into the workforce, on the basis of their oppression as a people, were put into the dirtiest and most dangerous, lowest paying jobs, they were the "last hired" and "first fired." Black people were refused the housing subsidies that white people received to buy suburban homes and even when they had the money were prevented, either by unspoken agreements or straight-up mob violence, from buying homes in "white" neighborhoods. Instead they were shunted—by government policy—into poorly built high rise housing projects in the inner cities. Black people of all classes and strata faced segregation and discrimination everywhere they turned, and Black workers were super-exploited to give the capitalists extra profits.
The effects of all this—along with the situation internationally, where there were uprisings against imperialism and colonial domination and where socialist countries like China posed the prospect of a revolutionary resolution to oppression, and the U.S. was also locked in contention with other powers for a bigger share of the plunder of the formerly colonial world—gave rise here to the earth-shaking revolutionary movement of the 1960s. With this upsurge and especially with the powerful urban rebellions in over 100 U.S. cities, some barriers Black people faced did fall. Black people were brought into some better jobs, affirmative action enabled thousands of Black students to enter college and professional careers, social programs like welfare and early education programs were provided.
Many people, especially among the younger generation, began to see themselves differently in relation to the world. Through struggle, people were trying to figure out how to forge new ways of relating. There was broad unity among many that they weren't going to fight and die for the oppressors, but to bring a whole new future for people all around the world into being. In fact, one of the most inspiring accomplishments of groups like the Black Panther Party and Young Lords Party (a revolutionary group based mainly among Puerto Ricans) was the way they got many former gang-bangers out of that life and into making revolution and serving the people, and the ways in which many prisoners (like George Jackson) went over from "criminal-minded" to "revolutionary-minded."
But all of this ran up against limitations. Even the most advanced forces for revolution didn't have a deep enough understanding of what a different future would or should be all about or how a revolution could be fought and won in this country against such a powerful enemy. There was not a leadership with a developed strategy of how to unite the many streams of resistance and radical sentiments politically, culturally, and ideologically into a powerful force behind that revolution. Or with an understanding of how to not just withstand, but advance through the brutal repression that came down with a vengeance from the state—over 20 members of the Black Panther Party (including leaders like Fred Hampton and George Jackson) were assassinated, hundreds of revolutionaries were jailed, the National Guard was called out against the righteous rebellions, students were shot down in the street and the movements broadly were surveilled and harassed. In addition, there were major changes and challenges going on in the revolutionary movement internationally and the global high tide of the '60s was ebbing, which also had a powerful effect. It was in the face of the real limitations in understanding how to meet all these challenges, and of the brutal repression by the ruling class, that the majority of the movement of that time turned away from revolution.
By the early '80s, most of what had been the movement of the '60s had either been crushed, was directionless or co-opted. At the same time, there were tremendous changes going on in the world politically and economically. The revolutionary leadership of China had been overturned in a coup after Mao Tsetung died, and this demoralized and disoriented many who had seen in revolutionary China a source of hope and support. Meanwhile, many jobs were relocated to the suburbs or shipped overseas where people could be exploited even more brutally. The inner cities became economic wastelands. This was a result of both policy (including the conscious decision in many cases to locate jobs away from the now more rebellious and defiant Black workforce) and more fundamentally, the drive of the restless, never-ceasing compulsion on capital to constantly expand or die—to seek out higher rates of profit or go under to competition.
The concessions that had been wrenched through the struggle of the '60s were being reversed—the end of affirmative action, integration to all intents and purposes dead and welfare was soon to be entirely gutted. Today, more than one generation faces conditions where many have never had a job and there is no prospect (through no action of their own) that they ever will. The government flooded the ghettos with drugs which became the main economic life in these neighborhoods, a certain foundation which "set the terms" for all other economic and social activity. At the same time, the so-called "war on drugs" was unleashed, which was nothing but a war on the people—with arrests and imprisonments skyrocketing. 330,000 were in prison in 1970 compared to 2.3 million in prison today. Today, nearly half of the people in prison in America are Black. In fact, the incarceration rate for Black people is the highest in the world.
Understanding all this, it becomes clear that these conditions were not caused by violence among the people. Nor is the violence among the people a "virus"—it is a reaction to conditions of relentless oppression where there seems to be no real hope of change. It is the system, with its dog-eat-dog mentality, that creates and perpetuates these conditions. This whole capitalist-imperialist setup is propelled by an endless drive for profit and more profit, with systematic super-exploitation and the oppression of Black and other oppressed peoples as a key dynamic element. Those two things—the capitalist system at the foundation of this country, and the white supremacy which runs all through this society and has been inextricably interlinked with it since Day One—are what caused the problem, not some make-believe "virus."
And, these conditions don't just "exist" in the air. They are brutally enforced by a whole state apparatus of cops, courts, and prisons. Some people out there tell us the cops are "just another gang." No they're not! Some individual cops may be in gangs, but as an institution, they are the hired enforcers of a whole system of exploitation and oppression.
Step back once again, what comes through is the utter criminality of this system, which keeps people in the inner city penned in and locked down, left to rot and kill each other off, and then to be killed and imprisoned when they walk into this trap.
Kotlowitz' and Slutkin's argument will not make anything better. And even worse, whatever the intent, it justifies and strengthens the hand of an oppressive state with its brutal, murdering police and prisons.
We have two questions we'd like to ask Kotlowitz: First, if every young Black man in a gang in East St. Louis, or Chicago, or Harlem, or Oakland quit their gang affiliation, renounced violence and crime, and showed up at a community college to enroll in a digital design program or a computer networking certification program, what would happen? The simple fact is that there would not be work for the vast majority of them. In fact, a recent study showed that the rate and numbers of Black people in information technology declined relative to eight years ago—not because people were unqualified, but because, according to Gina Billings, president of the National Black Data Processing Association, globalization has led to outsourcing to third world countries, and Black professionals once again found themselves caught in the "last hired, first fired" trap.
So even if you were to suddenly qualify every gang member for a good job, they would only be hired if employing them would be profitable for capital. And those jobs are not out there—not because society doesn't need them, but because they are not profitable. And precisely because the ruling class of capitalists knows this, they do NOT offer training programs, etc. in any serious way because they do not want to raise people's expectations and risk social rebellion when those expectations are not satisfied.
And, second, conversely, what would happen if, after a revolution, with a new socialist economy that was based on transforming conditions to overcome the age-old oppressive divisions of society and meeting the needs of the people, while rendering support to revolution worldwide, society DID offer every young Black person a chance at education and a job with meaning that they could live on? In a revolutionary society, there would be no unemployment because employment would not be based on whether it was profitable for capital; people would immediately be given work, to deal with the many pressing problems facing society. In that totally new society, the violence that people lash out with against each other would rapidly diminish as a whole new ethos and view of one another took root.
Only if we correctly understand the source of the conditions that people find themselves in, which Slutkin and Kotlowitz leave out, can we understand that the relationship between people's conditions, ideas, and actions aren't "static," as Kotlowitz states, and even more fundamentally, that things do not have to be this way! It is in the process of confronting the real problem and radically changing conditions that people can transform qualitatively and in a liberating way.
Under this system, people are forced to live based on "what's in it for me" and they are thrust into competition with others. This is the logic and dynamics of capitalism overall, and gets sharp when people are fighting over crumbs in a situation where every crumb counts. People are forced to hustle to survive, and while there are important examples of the ways in which people come together to help each other, how things are set up with people set against each other works to undermine even that.2
Just like in the larger society, there's a whole culture and outlook bound up with this—"I got to get mine, I got to get what I can get within this." And this logic has a pull and coherence.
A youth from Chicago's south side, who's been agonizing about the violence all around him, has been arguing that it's not just the economic necessity that leads youth to get into the gangs—this is also a deeply felt aspiration.
Yes, many do aspire to not just be part of, but to be on top of this game, and those aspirations are shaped by and confined within the larger material conditions that people are presented with.
The gangs and "the life" is just that—a whole way of life, with economics and morality which infuses whole neighborhoods with a "code of the streets" ethos and outlook. This divides sharply into two because on the one hand, this is a reflection writ small of the larger relations and dog-eat-dog dynamics and morality in society. But it has an "outlaw fuck the world" element—where people desire to be and are seemingly up against the system as a whole.
Within these dynamics, mirroring the dominant capitalist ethos of society, you're prey or a predator—someone takes down one of yours, you have to take down one of theirs. In this gangster logic, if you don't, you haven't stood up for your people and you come out looking weak. The "code of the streets" comes with a "kill or be killed" mentality and a vicious cycle of seemingly never-ending shootings against others in the same conditions as you.
There's also the attraction that you can "be somebody" in a way you can't in any other part of American society. Besides making it in the NBA or in hip-hop (which is about as likely as winning the lottery), how else can you make your mark on the world? One youth on Chicago's west side described "the life" as just another form of "chasing the American dream." They see someone with a nice car and they want it because that's how they can say something about who they are and "what they're worth." Again, reflecting a society where people's value is measured by the commodities they do or don't own.
All this is enforced and maintained a million times in a million ways by the broader culture and the workings of the system. In There Are No Children Here, Kotlowitz describes a young kid who gets arrested for nothing except for the fact that he's Black, he goes on to talk about his experience with lawyers and unjust courts and the impact this has on him—"fuck it, they treat me like a criminal, I may as well get something from it too." In the culture, this has been promoted in movies like Superfly in the '70s and then Scarface in the '80s which has an ongoing impact today. Along with this, the promotion of gangsta rap with the message that one should aspire to "get rich or die trying."
This whole way of life and the outlook that comes with it is a trap. Even where people do "make it to the top," this is still only the top of a game that's been given to them by this system, which is at the expense of, and dripping with the blood of others who this system has cast off.
Kotlowitz is correct in saying "[p]eople who have little expectation for the future live recklessly." Now once again, let's ask, what kind of system, what kind of society is it which provides little or no expectation for the future to generations of youth?
There is a way out of all this today—sweeping this system aside once and for all, through revolution and bringing into being a radically different system—socialism on the road to a communist world.
With state power in the hands of the people, society can be reorganized based on meeting the needs and unleashing the creativity and potential of millions of people that is destroyed by the kind of system we live under today. In this new society, the state—rather than being a force for exploitation, oppression, and repression—will back people up in working to solve all kinds of problems, not only for themselves but for all of humanity and as a part of the world revolution. As opposed to the society in which we live, which provides nothing but a hellish future or no future for the youth, in a socialist society, the youth will be a dynamic force for shaping the future. What they think and how they struggle will be valued, learned from, further unleashed...and led, with the aim of continuing to revolutionize all of society and bring a communist world, free of all exploitation and oppression, into being.
This is what is worth living and dying for. But it can only be based on FIGHTING the power, and not "working with it" to somehow keep a lid on things. There is an urgent need right now to bring forward a revolutionary movement which breaks out of the killing confines of the way things are, challenging the terms in the neighborhoods and society more broadly, and with it, leading the masses to forge a revolutionary movement and culture that can actually begin to change the tide.
The enormous potential for this must be wrenched from the horrors of today. The fact that these youth are largely alienated from this system and the whole "American way of life" and the very real sense that there is no future for them—is both part of why we need a revolution to sweep all of this away once and for all, and a critical part of where the basis for that revolution lies. All of these factors that especially young people are responding to—the fact that these youth really have nothing to lose, under this system—are the very same driving forces that could compel them in a whole other direction if that anger, alienation, and rebelliousness were channeled at the source of the problem and tempered and transformed with revolutionary science and a morality of liberation. Such a revolution can only take place when conditions radically change—when all of society is in a profound crisis and a revolutionary people emerge on to the scene, in the millions and tens of millions—but there is urgent work to carry out now, to hasten while awaiting such a situation, working now to bring forward a revolutionary people through waging political battle and carrying out ideological work, and transforming the current unfavorable political polarization in society through struggle.
This means that a minority has to be the first to step forward today. Even a relative handful with substance and revolutionary backbone can have an electrifying effect — not only in a neighborhood but in society overall. And it is in this process—of fighting to change the larger circumstances while learning about the underlying dynamics that gives rise to those circumstances, that people transform themselves.
The leadership, vision, science and organization necessary exists right now in the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. This Party came forward through the struggles of the '60s and it persevered in building a revolutionary movement and seeking answers to the vexing questions. Its leader, Bob Avakian, has led the way in "charting the uncharted course" of how to make a revolution in a country like this—and more, he's further developed the scientific theory and liberating vision of communism, deeply summing up the experience of the past, learning from the great achievements of previous revolutions, deeply interrogating their shortcomings and mistakes, and in doing all of this, he's taken communism to a whole new place. And Avakian is leading a Party that is serious about revolution, serious about protecting its leadership, and seriously taking responsibility to lead the masses to make revolution in the real world.
Whether revolution will once again be in the air in this society (and around the world) in the way it needs to be, depends on people taking it up. The time is urgent for people from all walks of life to step forward. To all those who dare to dream of a better world where all of these horrors have been left behind for all of humanity: get down with the revolution, become an emancipator of humanity.
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, For Revolution
1. Kotlowitz is well known for his important book, There Are No Children Here, where he exposed the brutal living conditions for youth in Henry Horner Homes, one of the many since demolished housing projects. He wrote with great compassion about what it was like for two young Black children to grow up in these conditions and the ways in which the whole system was set up for these kids to fail—from the schools to the courts. [back]
2. For an inspiring example of where people help each other in brutal conditions, the film Trouble the Water shows how rival gang youth in New Orleans joined together to save people during Katrina, at the risk of their own lives. [back]
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
Letter from the Front Lines:
Revolution received the following correspondence:
A two-sided battle for public opinion about abortion—and over whether Dr. LeRoy Carhart will be able to continue providing later term abortions which save the lives of women—became visible on the street this week near Carhart's clinic in Germantown, Maryland.
On one end of the street, up to 200 Catholic anti-abortion protesters gathered, as they do almost every weekend, to sing and pray for an end to abortion and raise funds for so-called "counselors" to chase women entering Dr. Carhart's clinic, trying to lure them into a fake "pregnancy option" clinic across the street and lie to them about abortion. They had answered the call for nine days of protest aimed at shutting down the clinic made by Operation Rescue—which as Sunsara Taylor wrote, "is an organization of woman-hating, evolution-denying, theocratic, Christian fascists," opposes all abortion and birth control. (See "Why YOU should be in Maryland July 31-August 7," Revolution #240.) A 24-foot Operation Rescue truck circled the block constantly with the word "CHOICE" next to pictures of dismembered fetuses.
At the other end of the block, 220 people marched in support of Dr. Carhart's call for a public street action in support of abortion. A Summer Celebration of Choice Walk raised more than $12,000 for the Trust Women Abortion Access Fund to help women who can't afford abortions. And the week before, the Washington Post profiled Dr. Carhart on its front page in a story about the threats he's faced since choosing to perform abortions almost 40 years ago. The article includes chilling details of the 1991 arson fire that killed 17 horses on his farm and Dr. Carhart's response which was, "That was when I decided I would not be part time...I decided I wasn't going to just be a provider, I was going to be an activist." Carhart also has a clinic near Omaha called Abortion and Contraception Clinic of Nebraska, and he talked about his plans to expand services in Germantown to HIV testing, and care for lesbian, gay, and transgendered people who cannot get reproductive health care because other doctors refuse to examine them, and to train and network with other abortion providers about how to expand their work. (See "Neb. doctor who performs late-in-pregnancy abortions in Md. talks about future of clinic, security concerns," Washington Post, July 24, 2011.)
Abortion rights activists from as far as California raised funds to join in the Summer of Trust effort by World Can't Wait, the New York Coalition for Abortion Clinic Defense, and clinic escorts, most under age 35 (summeroftrust.com). They joined the National Organization for Women and other women's and religious pro-choice organizations to keep between 15 and 50 supporters on the street 14 hours every day. A church opened its building for supporters to hold discussions and make banners, while supplying snacks and dinner. Words of Choice, a professional theater production, drew 70 people to a performance of the work of 12 writers on why women's lives depend on controlling their bodies. The celebration was real, the appreciation of abortion providers profound and moving.
On the street, a collection of banners directed at traffic saying "Abortion Providers Save Women's Lives!" "Abortion on Demand & Without Apology!" "I Don't Regret My Abortion!" and "TRUST WOMEN" grew as supporters gained confidence in boldly proclaiming the need for abortion for women to be free and began sharing their own abortion stories.
Operation Rescue leader Troy Newman, who moved to Wichita, Kansas, in 2001 to "stop" Dr. George Tiller, the abortion provider assassinated there in 2009, was on the street only briefly. He photographed abortion supporters from a distance, then darted across the street and up to a woman holding a sign saying "Dr. Carhart is a Hero." As he leaned close to take her photo, she said, "Who the hell are you?" Newman sneered, "I'm Troy Newman, BITCH!" and ran into a waiting car, clarifying that Operation Rescue, and the rest of the anti-abortion movement, is, at its core, about the total submission and degradation of women.
Robust discussion and arguments went on throughout the week about whether the anti-abortionists are just "idiots" or are following a mandate for a Christian theocracy with support at the highest levels of the government, and about whether you can or should challenge people about their religious ideas. Some members of organizations working to elect Democrats argued that the Democrats are the only defense of abortion rights, while others began to more deeply question why legal attacks on abortion are mainly being conceded by the Democratic Party. Quotes from newly purchased copies of BAsics were fuel for conversations about Bob Avakian's vision of a communist society where women will fully take part in transforming the world and emancipating humanity as a whole. When Revolution newspaper was in the mix, people were moved to think more deeply, and differently, about the importance of the immediate battle to keep Dr. Carhart and other abortion providers safe and working.
Summer of Choice, a project of Dr. Carhart's clinic, said on August 5, "Our signs and banners proclaiming support for Dr. Carhart, for all abortion providers, and for their patients draw honks, waves, and upturned thumbs from passersby, some of whom even stop to unload water or coffee or doughnuts or cookies or pizza for our grateful supporters. The stark difference between the response to our presence and the response to the cluster of nasty anti-choice signs down the street could not be more clear—or more rewarding to those of us on the side of trusting women... Your support helps us to continue our much-needed work. A million thanks—Dr. Carhart and all of us are grateful, and so are the women we serve."
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
A deeply moving celebration of the life of Alejandro del Fuego was held in Houston on July 23. Alejandro (Alex) was a revolutionary communist youth who tragically died at the age of 21, after a courageous and inspiring two-year battle with cancer.
A beautiful enlarged photo of Alex, with his irrepressible and irresistible smile, beamed at everyone from behind the podium. The sight of the larger than life Alex—smiling, striding purposefully, and carrying an armful of Revolutions—brought forth warm memories, laughter, stories, and softly flowing tears from everyone attending.
The program began with songs by Bob Marley and Outernational—two of Alex's favorite artists—accompanied by a beautiful slide show with photos of Alex. People got up to speak, sing, read poetry they had written, and in other ways recount how much Alex had meant to them—and not only them, but to millions of people throughout the world who never had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Alex; how he had lived his far too short life with such meaning, zest, and joy; what they had learned from him; his endearing habit of giving people funny nicknames based on their actual names.
People from diverse backgrounds and several parts of the world were there; youth and veteran revolutionaries were there; people traveled from other Texas locations to be there; messages were sent from people in other parts of the country.
One speaker ended his remarks with these words: "We're bidding a final farewell tonight to a cherished friend, whose death is truly tragic. But seared in our hearts and our minds, we'll always carry with us a vivid, full color memory of the beautiful and wonderful human being that was Alejandro del Fuego, a beloved comrade, an emancipator of humanity."
The evening ended with a singing of Nina Simone's classic song "I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free," another song Alex loved, begun as an powerful solo, but soon joined by everyone there in a swelling and heartfelt tribute and goodbye to Alex.
The following two statements were read at this celebration of Alejandro del Fuego's life:
Every time I have sat down to write this, I have struggled with how to begin. Surely I should begin with the sadness I share with so many others at the loss of Alejandro's young life. But then, as my mind wanders through memories of Alejandro, it seems obvious I should begin with the joy of having known him. Before long, both those feelings are overwhelmed by the deep inspiration his life provokes and the sense of responsibility he left to us all. Indeed, the tragedy of Alejandro's painfully early death is all the greater because of just how brilliantly he lived.
Alex lived in a way that caused those who got to know him to love him fiercely. He made people he had just met feel like they mattered. And, most important, as a young person deeply committed to communist revolution, he lived in a way that prioritized the needs and lives of billions around the globe who he would never meet. Alex lived honestly; when the things he was learning about the world meant he had to change his whole life plans—he did so. More than once.
One thing I will always remember about Alejandro is how easily he smiled.
At the memorial we held at Revolution Books for Alejandro, Lenny Wolff brought into the program both some personal memories of Alejandro and Bob Avakian's discussion of what it means to live life with a purpose from his talk, "Ruminations and Wranglings." He spoke of how "human life is finite, but revolution is infinite" and emphasized the significance of Alex having contributed to that great river of revolution that brought forth the most liberating chapters of human history and holds the potential to remake human society in the most thoroughgoing and liberating ways. But he also emphasized the importance of really appreciating and remembering the precious and particular person Alex was and the life he chose to live.
With this in mind, I want to share at least a flavor of the stories and sentiments expressed.
Many of us in the city I'm in got to know Alejandro during the Revolutionary Summer Youth Project in 2009 that helped launch the RCP's campaign, The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have. Alejandro was down for just about anything and brimming with enthusiasm.
As such, many stories involved Alejandro volunteering—to teach the whole crew how to march in formation, to go and speak on behalf of the project at an anti-war protest, to go into a new housing project, or to go on some wild-goose-chase across state lines in pursuit of a meeting with organic farmers which turned out to be a party of high school students who were mostly drunk by the time Alejandro and the other volunteer had arrived. The kicker of this story was Alejandro's determination and insistence that, having traveled all that way, they find at least one person at that party who was interested in revolution and Bob Avakian. (And the real kicker, which I only learned after the memorial, was that after all that, Alejandro insisted they go back to the house of the kid who invited them where they stayed up till 3 in the morning watching Bob Avakian's Revolution Talk only to have to catch a 6 am bus back to New York so they wouldn't miss the morning volunteers' meeting!)
A lot of the stories involved Alejandro's love of music and enthusiasm for fun. These ranged from his insistence on getting deeply into the "scientific basis for mice in apartments" to how vigorously he bounced up and down during Outernational's performance one night. They included how he not only helped spearhead a crew to take the Staten Island ferry after the show but helped convince people to sing the communist anthem "Whirlwinds of Danger" as they rode across the water—again at about 3 in the morning.
One person described how her mother had done a lot of cooking for the volunteers during the summer project. Of all of the volunteers, Alejandro was the one who learned her name (instead of referring to her simply as so-and-so's mom) and would take the time to talk with her and share what he had been learning and doing to spread the revolution. He made her feel that she was part of the revolution even as she had some very big differences, particularly over religion. Somehow—probably because he volunteered for something—she and he ended up out somewhere in an argument with a reactionary Dominican man. This woman's mother listened to Alejandro argue with the guy for a while and then snapped back something like, "I don't agree with everything he says, but if these young people who are here making revolution could stay forever, this world would be a better place."
A young communist told of working with Alejandro on an article for Revolution newspaper. She described—and I couldn't help laughing out loud as I remember this well—the first draft of his article. Man, he really let you know that the U.S. had committed crimes and atrocities! It had waged massacres and torture. It had committed acts of terror and destruction. I mean, this article just went on and on... and on and on... about all that. And the truth is, Alejandro was righteous in his hatred for the crimes of this country and in his insistence that others find out about them. But, really, this article probably wasn't going to move people who didn't already feel as he did.
So she and I just began asking him how he had come to understand what he knew now, what had been pivotal in changing his mind, how his own internal struggle had developed. He shared openly and we both learned a great deal. After a while, one of us suggested, "I think you should write that." His reply was so immediate, so casual, and so confident—something simple like "Okay, I'll send it in the morning"—that I really worried he hadn't understood what a radical recast we were hoping for.
But then, in the morning, just as he promised, we received another draft. Neither of us could put it down until we finished it. As I recall, it really only needed one revision. That's how he was. He would really listen and think about the ideas you put to him—and he would consider deeply what those ideas had to do with reality. He was self-reflective without being self-indulgent.
Finally, a lot of people told of how Alejandro had a real fire in the belly for revolution. How much he wanted to change the world. How deeply he loved Bob Avakian. How much he loved BA's memoir and his life story, as well as how much enthusiasm he had for digging into the theory he has advanced. And particularly how much clarity Alejandro had as to the importance of making Bob Avakian's leadership known throughout society, but particularly among this new generation.
Indeed, this is what I will always remember from my last encounter with Alejandro. I had the opportunity to be down in Houston and hadn't seen him since he had gotten sick. I was not prepared for the physical toll the cancer had taken on him and at first it kind of took the wind out of me. But Alejandro didn't flinch. He smiled broadly—and genuinely. He had a special quality of being both able to radiate warmth and be open to and buoyed by the love of others—and he had hugs for everyone, as we all did for him. After that, he surveyed the food, cracked a couple jokes, and settled into a reclining position where he drifted in and out of sleep as well as in and out of the discussion.
At a certain point someone asked why we make such a big deal about Bob Avakian, the person. They asked, "Why not just promote his work?" Alejandro had been quiet for a while and I didn't even know he was awake, but here he sat up and spoke with great clarity. Rather than go from memory, here is an excerpt of some notes I wrote shortly after that discussion, "Alejandro posed that this wasn't right because a lot of people want to know what kind of person BA is and what led to him developing his new synthesis. He began drawing from all the things he himself appreciated about getting to know BA through his memoir and made observations from other people's reactions to the memoir as well. As he talked, he deepened his own argument. He said that refusing to promote BA, the person, is rooted in petty bourgeois individualism. It's rooted in just wanting everyone equal instead of recognizing how, when it comes to leading and envisioning the process of revolution, BA is head and shoulders above anyone else."
Again, its hard to write any of this without riding that rollercoaster of sadness and joy and landing back at the sense of inspiration and responsibility. Alejandro was very precious. His particular person was unique and the loss of him, I know, leaves a great gaping hole in many people's hearts. Mine too.
But, as Bob Avakian has put it, "The content of people's lives—the quality of those lives, what they are dedicated and devoted to, and ultimately what they've been lived about, whether their death comes sooner or later—is the most important thing and gives meaning, one way or another, to people's lives, short as they are in relation to the infinite existence of matter in motion."
Alejandro dedicated his life to revolution with tremendous energy and conscious enthusiasm. This is something truly great and this is not extinguished. It is also unfinished.
Thinking about Alex's life is deeply inspirational... that he did, as Nina Simone sang in "I wish I knew how it would feel to be free," "give all he was longing to give," that even facing the prospect of death he didn't "do for self," and that he acted with deep morality, conscience and conviction... and again, always with an open heart and easy smile. There is much to learn from Alex, including the challenge that gap leaves for others of his generation and for all those who want a better world. Learn from his life and live like him. Like he did, find out about the world, and our responsibility to it. Take courage in your convictions, seek out the truth, and jump into the river of revolution. Get deeply into Bob Avakian, spread the word of this revolution, fill the greatest need you can in bringing about an emancipated world.
I got the opportunity to work with Alex pretty closely for about a year, from a distance. When he got sick, pretty soon after he got back from the Summer Youth Project in NY, we pulled together a national team of people who were going to be part of promoting online a seminal talk from Bob Avakian, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About. Alejandro loved this talk, in his words, it is "a breath of fresh air." And he felt making it accessible on the net could be a big deal—both internationally and for the youth in this country. He put himself to that with a great deal of determination and creativity. We spent a lot of time on the phone and on the net together and I want to share some thoughts on what I appreciate about Alex and some of his own words that capture his understanding of the grandness of revolution and the giddiness of being alive.
Alex took the responsibility of being part of initiating a new stage of communist revolution very seriously—he felt that he had to make known what he had come to understand about the world, both its horrors, which he felt viscerally, and the fact that the world didn't have to be this way. With a lot of confidence, he would tell people about the leadership of Bob Avakian, that there was someone who had re-envisioned revolution and communism, and was leading a movement for revolution in the world today.
In his words: "Without this synthesis from Bob Avakian and winning increasing numbers of people over to become communists on that basis, humanity will be not only be unable to advance in any qualitative sense, environmental destruction (as just one factor) could have devastating and catastrophic effects on our species along with all the other species on the planet and the biosphere."
He worked to dig into the content of all this repeatedly and in working together, he held all of us to a certain standard.
After a phone call of this team, he called me back to say, "I really like these plans but I don't think we're digging into the theory enough, I think if we're really going to do this, we have to get more into what this talk is, what is has to do with revolution." And he was right.
You hear it in his statement to the event on April 11, a great deal of substance and appreciation for these theoretical breakthroughs. And he didn't want to take shortcuts or go the easy route with people asking them to just do this or do that. He wanted them to make the leaps in their understanding that he did. He wrote me at one point, "there is a dialectical relation between people engaging Avakian (particularly the Revtalk) and spreading his work; while this is not automatic [although he is very compelling :)] we won't have exponential growth without it and if we did, what basis would it be on?"
Here, I have to pause and note how much I got a kick out of his inclusion—in this very serious email—of the little punctuation smiley face... or, at other times, how he would spell "laterz" with a "z."
He also understood the importance of what it meant for him to make the leaps to becoming a communist and learning all he could to fill the needs before us. At one point, he wrote a letter that was going to go to new people about the Revolution talk online. Everything in it was correct on one level, but I have to say I didn't think it was really going to connect... So he and I talked about it, talked methodologically about speaking to new people, what would've moved him if he was just coming to this, he rewrote the letter and it was great. And he made the point to write me later just to say, "Thanks for calling me and working with me and not just changing it yourself."
But he would also go from very serious to sweet and light. He combined this lofty sense of what we were aiming to accomplish, a very serious approach about Avakian and what it could open up to break his voice out into society and a sweet lightness that came from a feeling of togetherness, collectivity and joy.
From one email, "Later all... I look forward to being out of the hospital and working to take the visibility of and engagement with this talk and leader to a new level..."
or from the end of an email:
"Cool beans to all, and to all a good night. Sorry folks, I'm feeling awful after the chemo today so I'm going to hold off on helping send out those messages until the morning.
"Take care everybody, it's great that we've been in such frequent correspondence with one another, it really feels like a team :-)"
He was also a really open person, easy to smile and curious. He always had an answer for what are you listening to, what are you reading? Along with feeling connected through the pages of Revolution, at one point, I asked him where he got hope and inspiration from artistically. He told me about this fantasy anime he was watching and sent me links. He really liked culture that broke new mold and even in trippy ways, helped people think of other ways possible of relating, of being.
He fought to maintain this spirit through very difficult conditions, fighting with herculean efforts. Though it might've been easier at a certain point physically to just let go, he put himself through great physical pain because he wasn't done living. I understand that pretty soon before he died, when he got a very bad assessment, he told someone, "I don't want to die, the world needs me to be an emancipator of humanity and I'm not ready to give up yet." He wanted to keep living, and he wanted to keep fighting.
Through a tortuous and painful fight, Alex maintained his broadness of mind and his heart, his sense of humor and his deep, deep sense of purpose and fire to do all he could with all he had to get as far as possible to making revolution, and to struggle with others of his generation to understand their responsibility in relation to the world and the potential for humanity.
On so many levels, I'm so glad to have known him.
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
From a reader:
On July 17 the New York October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation held its annual Stolen Lives Induction Ceremony with close to 75 persons of many nationalities attending. As activists, friends and new supporters gathered, one could feel the solemnity and sense of loss combined with a determined air of purpose. Many were introduced to the October 22nd Coalition and the Stolen Lives Project only a few days before.
|Stories of Stolen Lives
The Stolen Lives Induction Ceremonies are held every year, and they are an important part of building urgently needed resistance to the thousands of lives of a criminalized generation stolen by the system's brutal enforcers – the police. The following are the stories of the lives honored this year in New York:
• Brianna Ojeda, 11, died due to the actions of Brooklyn police on August 27, 2010. Brianna had suffered a major asthma attack. When Carmen, her mother, asked a police officer for assistance after he pulled her over as she was rushing her daughter to the hospital, he laughed in her face and detained them. Brianna died before she reached the hospital. Briana's family was presented by Danette Chavis, mother of Gregory Chavis (killed by NYPD October 9, 2004).
• Montique Smalls, 39, was an amateur boxer from Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. He was shot and killed by police on February 21, 2005. According to Montique's daughter's grandmother, Ruth Hesterbay, officers searched his body for an weapon and then when they did not find one, she said she watched as they took a gun out of their van and put it next to Montique's body.
• Johnathan Smith, 27, was killed by police on March 18, 2011. Another Boerum Hill resident, he was handcuffed and beaten to death by NYPD officers in plain view of 20 to 30 outraged neighbors. There has hardly been a peep from the media about this incident.
• James Whiteshield, 17, died on January 19, 2007. He died after being detained by the Seattle, Washington police on an inactive warrant, which raises serious questions of his arrest. His induction was presented to his aunt live via Skype.
The music and lyrics from early Gil Scott-Heron also filled the air. I was reminded of the lyrics from one of Scott-Heron's earlier songs, "Did you hear what they said? They said another brother's dead." We were honoring three brothers, and one young sister, who are dead due to the actions, and inactions, of the police, those who are "sworn" to protect and serve. Entering you were met by Stolen Lives banners on the wall and photo exhibits, including some featuring Monica "Kathryn" Shay, the O22 national office coordinator who, only a week and a half earlier, had died from a tragic shooting. (See Revolution #239 and online at revcom.us.)
Since the last Stolen Lives Induction Ceremony in July 16, 2010, police in New York and New Jersey have killed at least 29 more people; and countless hundreds throughout the country. On this day of the 2011 Induction Ceremony, Brianna Ojeda, Montique Smalls, Johnathan Smith, and James Whiteshield were inducted into the Stolen Lives Project. (See sidebar for their stories.) Nicholas Heyward Sr., father of Nicholas Heyward, Jr. (killed by NYPD September 27, 1994), from Parents Against Police Brutality and the October 22nd Coalition, welcomed all the family members present, "You are not alone, and we are always here to support you... We are not allowing [these injustices] sitting down. And it is up to us to be advocating and fighting."
The Stolen Lives Induction Ceremony is an important part of building urgently needed resistance to the literal stealing of thousands of lives of a criminalized generation by the system's brutal enforcers – the police.
Carl Dix from the Revolutionary Communist Party, and co-founder of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, spoke to why O22 came into existence—to bring about a movement of resistance to the nationwide epidemic of police brutality, to provide a firm platform for the victims and families of police brutality and murder, and to bring broader forces—that is, those not under the gun of police brutality—to stand with those who suffer from this brutality in this fight.
Carl spoke of O22 stalwarts who were no longer with us. First he paid tribute to Monica "Kathryn" Shay; Carl then spoke of the late Akil Al-Jundi, one of the original Attica brothers, and a co-author of the O22 mission statement. This year 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the historic Attica prison rebellion. Carl continued with a challenge for new people to step up and fill these voids.
Speaking of the Pelican Bay prisoners' hunger strike, Carl linked this in the context of the need for dramatic resistance to mass incarceration overall, and the need to build a movement for resistance that is part of a movement for revolution. People applauded each time revolution was mentioned. Carl proposed that the Induction Ceremony go on record in support of the prison hunger strikers, which people united with by loud applause.
Also speaking was Ralph Poynter, veteran activist and life partner of people's lawyer, Lynne Stewart, who is currently in federal prison, sentenced to 10 years for her work representing one of her clients. Ralph called for greater resistance to police brutality, and demanded freedom for all political prisoners in this country. He said, "Lynne Stewart spent the most of her adult life as an activist, and a lawyer, defending those who believed in self-defense and self-determination. She's in jail because she defended those who defend themselves." Ralph continued on the subject of mistreated political prisoners from the 60s era who continued to be held behind prison walls, "So many brothers and sisters have died at the hands of the prison system. [Political prisoner] Marilyn Buck was left on a gurney in the hot sun for eight hours, and she had cancer! This is death by medical practice. So many of our political prisoners die at the hands of the prison system. We must mount a movement to free all political prisoners."
Ralph then presented the Stolen Lives Induction to the family members of Montique Smalls. The grandmother of Montique's daughter said of the police murder of Montique, "They do nothing but lie on the Black people and the Puerto Ricans. They're no good and it's time for a change. We must learn to stand together and fight together for our young men and young ladies."
A live video presentation from the Greensboro (N.C.) October 22nd Coalition of those killed in North Carolina was made via Skype. The Alliance of Conscious Documentarians, a group of activist artists, spoke. One of the hip hop artists who had performed spoke of developing a First Response Team to provide resources and assistance to victims' families to help them wage campaigns for justice. The People's Neighborhood Patrol in Harlem, and also the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Copwatch were recognized.
The Induction Ceremony closed with a collective reading of the Stolen Lives Pledge led by Nicholas Heyward, Sr.:
"We pledge that the life and humanity of these Stolen Lives will not be forgotten. We pledge that their highest hopes and aspirations will live on in us, and that we will seek justice for these and all the Stolen Lives. In this way we pledge that their memory will stay alive in us and will inspire us to fight for justice and a better world."
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
U.S. vs. Mexico Soccer:
I thought your readers might find some interest in what happened at the recent U.S. vs. Mexico men's Gold Cup soccer game which took place in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a city just north of Los Angeles. The day after the game, there was an article in the sports page of the Los Angeles Times titled "Red, White and Boo" by Bill Plaschke, who is also a regular talking head on the ESPN show "Around the Horn." Plaschke's article could have been called "Soccer, fractures, 'misplaced loyalties' and home field advantage."
Plaschke wrote that being in the Rose Bowl that day was like being in the Staples Center, where the Lakers play, full of Boston Celtics fans, the Lakers' number one enemy or like being in Chavez Ravine stadium where the L.A. Dodgers play baseball being filled with S.F. Giants fans who locals call "the hated ones." Then he goes on to ask "...is it really right for folks who live here to boo and cheer as if they don't?" He felt betrayed by the crowd. Supposedly, you can choose to root, cheer or boo for whoever you want to. But there's something deeper going on here, sports is part of the political and ideological superstructure of society, where people are trained in a certain way of thinking, which values to have or not have, who the so-called "good guys" are, and who the so-called "bad guys" are, who to root for and who to boo... my team, my city, my country. This is discussed in greater detail in Chairman Avakian's talk "The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters."
The Rose Bowl was filled to capacity. The fans couldn't wait for the Mexican team to come out. It was anticipated Mexico would win. They have the better team. But to Plaschke the only thing that mattered was "this is the USA" and the fans should root for the home team—end of the story; end of the debate. Angered and disappointed he wrote "what other country would have the visiting team get the edge?" That is part of what you count on in playing on your home turf, but the fans became an extension of Mexico's team and took the advantage away from the U.S. The sound of people chanting Olé, olé drowned out the chants of USA.
Here is one of the ironies at the Rose Bowl. Over 80,000 of the 93,000 people in the stands were booing the home team. The U.S. lost the home field advantage and this had an impact on the U.S. team's psyche and they became discombobulated and unraveled—even though they went up 2-0 early in the game, they ended up losing 4-2. Everything the U.S. team did was met with an overwhelming chorus of boos and everything the Mexico team did was met with an overwhelming chorus of cheers. Now the U.S. team lost because Mexico's team was the better team. But one of the things that happens a lot of times in sports is when you are on your opponent's home field, your best players want the ball to soar to new heights and raise their level of play of their own team and, in that way, silence the crowd and in doing so take the home court advantage from them. But in this situation the U.S. team was unable to rise to the occasion.
On another deeper level, this is a big fracture in the social cohesion of the U.S. Where's your loyalty? That is a big fracture down the middle of it that could splinter at any time. You can see it. It could be one of the things that splinters the whole thing. It is one of the things that holds their society together. It's not the only thing but it is one of the things. On one level it is funny but on a deeper level it shows how tenuous their fabric is. How it can come apart quickly, suddenly watching a soccer game and shit like that. You could see it become unraveled. That fracture can just splinter and keep splintering. Everything starts splintering in all kinds of directions.
Some people think the people should be arrested for rooting for Mexico. "The gall of people living in the U.S. rooting for Mexico." Even some people doing it said they felt conflicted 'cause they grew up in the U.S. but rooted for Mexico. One man said, "I came here as a little kid, I didn't have any choice but to come here as a little kid. I grew up here, but my heart is with Mexico."
On another level rooting for the home team guts the contestation in sports. People get trained and they don't appreciate watching somebody who is better. They can't appreciate and acknowledge the athleticism involved. If you can't appreciate that you really can't appreciate sports. What kind of thinking is that? What kind of logic is that?
Contestation, let the best bring out the best and appreciate that and let everybody acknowledge and recognize that. That is what is going on. And be able to celebrate that. Celebrate it even if you were rooting for the opposing team. You can't even appreciate something like that. You can't even appreciate the beauty of something if you don't start from what is true. You can't really take part in the enjoyment of it. It is something that is great and grand and it is going on right in front of your eyes. Great plays, athleticism. People soaring to the heights. You can't take that all in and appreciate it for what it is.
You are cut off from enjoying the reality and its movement and changes—really, the beauty that lies within it.
Plaschke is trying to train people with his "Red, White, and Boo" article. But it's not just him. Team USA #1 is all throughout the superstructure (e.g. in politics, culture, and yes, sports). The U.S. has many fractures, this is just one that we are talking about here. They have many, many. How could it not given what it is? Many, many potential fractures in this motherfucker. That's why there "is another way" if you really look at it.
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
Correspondence from England:
We received this correspondence:
I came across you through The 4th Media. I read an article on the American prison system by Li Onesto and was led by a link to your website. I hope to visit your site on a regular basis. I live in the north-east of England and am much inspired by socialists here and abroad. On Thursday the police shot dead a young black man aged 29 and a father of four. This took place in Tottenham, North London. The police are not routinely armed here but these shootings are becoming quite a regular occurrence. We have no faith in their 'independent enquiries.' The police are always cleared. Cleared in advance you might say. Riots broke out yesterday as a result of this murder. The cost to business must be high and the disruption and unease and subsequent police arrests will all add to the mayhem caused by the police shooting on Thursday. Once the state is allowed without incident to shoot to death members of the public the rest of us are all put at risk. There must be a price to pay for these shootings. Hesitation must be the order of the day. The state must realise that shooting to death members of the public is entirely unacceptable. These shootings are happening too often. They cause a break down of law and order and those who direct these operations should face tough questioning. But this will not happen so mayhem will continue and so will unease.
The poor conditions in American prisons are becoming known all over the world. With 5 per cent of the world's population America has 25 per cent of the world's prisoners which tells us all we need to know. Solitary confinement is particularly cruel. The prisoners are being mentally crushed. Prison sentences are too long and slung at the poorest in society for the most trivial of offences. It is assault and battery by the state against the poor. It is depressing American society as the 2.3 million prisoners all have family and friends on the outside. With broken men coming out and held on a tight leash, there is always a fresh supply of new prisoners arriving. America is becoming a penitentiary state. Wages throughout American society have been kept artificially low over the past thirty years. Whilst prices rise and rise. Leading to an impoverished people. First credit cards were used and used without restraint. Leading to vast amounts of personal debt. America has rightly been called a parasite since it consumes so much of the world's output without paying for that consumption. It uses slave labour abroad and imprisoned labour at home. It also takes in what can only be called indentured labour from Central America. How long can America continue to function when it is creating so much chaos around the world and misery at home. America is a psychopathic state. We expect much worse to come. The shooting of Mark Duggan on Thursday was hardly noticed outside the UK. And even here the state media tried to routinely report it as a way of keeping the public mind off the incident. The riots have hit the news in China and in Russia and no doubt in America and many other countries. The riots show the public response to the shooting and the attempt by the state to shut the whole incident down. Now it has caught the attention of everyone in the UK and more importantly it has been reported all over the world. Affecting tourism and the image of Britain as peaceful place to visit. You can't shoot a man to death and expect peace on the streets.
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
At every point, we must be searching out the key concentrations of social contradictions and the methods and forms which can strengthen the political consciousness of the masses, as well as their fighting capacity and organization in carrying out political resistance against the crimes of this system; which can increasingly bring the necessity, and the possibility, of a radically different world to life for growing numbers of people; and which can strengthen the understanding and determination of the advanced, revolutionary-minded masses in particular to take up our strategic objectives not merely as far-off and essentially abstract goals (or ideals) but as things to be actively striven for and built toward.
The objective and orientation must be to carry out work which, together with the development of the objective situation, can transform the political terrain, so that the legitimacy of the established order, and the right and ability of the ruling class to rule, is called into question, in an acute and active sense, throughout society; so that resistance to this system becomes increasingly broad, deep and determined; so that the "pole" and the organized vanguard force of revolutionary communism is greatly strengthened; and so that, at the decisive time, this advanced force is able to lead the struggle of millions, and tens of millions, to make revolution.
Fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution.
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Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
From A World To Win News Service
We received the following report from A World To Win News Service, and are posting it here because we thought it would be of interest to our readers. We have added a few explanatory notes.
"Mindless violence"—"pure criminality"—"monsters taking o er our streets"—the British politicians and media, from the Tories and Murdoch's rabid tabloids to Labour and the liberal BBC, have closed ranks to denounce the tide of unrest sweeping the country's cities. [Tories refers to the right-wing Conservative Party headed by Prime Minister David Cameron; BBC is the British Broadcasting Corporation; Labour is the party of the liberal wing of the British capitalist-imperialists.—Revolution] But what is taking place on Britain's streets is a revolt against an oppressive state apparatus that is enforcing an unjust society, an apparatus that has lost much of its legitimacy in the eyes of millions. It is a revolt against state-backed racism and the colonial mentality of the British ruling class towards Black people. It is a refusal by hundreds of thousands of youth to accept a world where they are destitute, with no jobs and no future.
In an interview with the BBC Tuesday morning, Home Minister Theresa May set the official tone by ruling out of order any discussion whatsoever that the urban rebellions might be due to anything other than just "thieving and looting." But what was the spark that set off this firestorm of rage? It was the killing of 29-year-old father of four Mark Duggan by the Metropolitan Police in the North London borough of Tottenham. Duggan was a resident of the Broadwater Farm Estate, a large social housing complex that was the setting for a powerful rebellion 26 years ago, when a police raid killed Cynthia Jarrett, the mother of a local community activist. Mark Duggan was widely known in the local community, who have been shocked and angered as details of the killing have emerged. He was killed by the police after an armed unit stopped the mini-cab he was travelling in.
According to the Evening Standard, the main London evening paper ("Father Dies and Policeman Hurt in 'Terrifying' shoot-out," August 5, 2011), a 20-year-old eyewitness saw Mark Duggan killed while he was lying on the ground. The witness is quoted as saying: "About three or four police officers had both men pinned on the ground at gunpoint. They were really big guns and then I heard four long shots. The police shot him [Duggan] on the floor."
The police initially claimed that Mark Duggan fired a bullet at a police officer which lodged in the officer’s radio, "luckily" saving his life. It has since been reported that the bullet was in fact fired by a police weapon. Now the cop who shot Mark Duggan says he never claimed Duggan had fired at all. The whole story that Duggan fired first and the police acted in self-defence is now in shreds.
But here's the important part: most people were pretty sure there was a police cover-up even before the facts came out. Over and over again people have seen the police cloak their bloody repression in lies. When the young Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes was shot six times in the head in 2005 following the bombings on London's transport system, the police said he was behaving like a "terrorist," only for it to be shown later he was doing nothing out of the ordinary. When Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper vendor, was clubbed by a police sergeant during the April 2008 G8 protest and died, the police first denied they'd struck him at all and instead blamed the protesters. The Innocent Project documented how over a period of years nearly 200 people died while in police custody—but not a single cop ever went to prison for any of these deaths—as if every single death were somehow natural or brought on by the dead man himself.
And all this is part of a bigger web of lies and deceit, where the politicians and media tout their wars as being waged for "democracy" and "freedom," when they are nothing but vicious wars for empire, and they call this capitalist dog-eat-dog hellhole of inequality and oppression the best system on earth.
The so-called Independent Police Complaints Commission says there is no truth in the allegations that Mark Duggan was killed in cold-blood by the police. And the politicians from the entire spectrum are saying, calm down, wait for its verdict. But what sort of credibility can this body have? The Director of Investigations of the IPCC is Moir Stewart, a former Police Commander who was criticized for failing to pass on vital information to his superior, Ian Blair, then Police Commissioner, about the case of de Menezes. The IPCC is meant to investigate all killings by the police. Putting Moir Stewart in charge of investigations for the IPCC makes the organization into a travesty.
Here we see the theory of checks and balances in capitalist democracy in action! The police investigated by the police and then declaring themselves completely innocent. Is it any wonder the oppressed peoples in areas like Tottenham have no faith in this system?
On top of this, police credibility has been seriously undermined when the Met's top two officers recently had to resign after it came out that they had taken gifts worth thousands from cronies of the Murdoch media empire and that Murdoch's agents had paid cops hundreds of thousands in bribes for personal phone numbers of crime victims, royals, and celebrities.
Labour Party politicians initially made some noise about how the revolts are being fueled by cutbacks by the Conservative-Liberal Democratic Party coalition. And the current government austerity program, and the larger financial crisis it is part of, is indeed hitting people hard. Unemployment nationwide has almost doubled in three years, and it is especially high in places like Tottenham—for every job in the borough there are 54 young people there who need work, and the unemployment rate for Black youth is over 50%. One study reported that Tottenham is actually one of the areas of Britain that will be least affected by the government cutbacks—because there was almost nothing to be cut back to start with!
Tottenham and most of the other areas that have seen the most intense fighting—Peckham, Lewisham, Hackney, in London, Liverpool's Merseyside, and similar districts in Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham—all sit towards the bottom of the food chain inside imperialist Britain. And for 13 years, the very Party that working people, women, minorities and the poor generally were told was theirs—Labour—presided over an intensification of social and economic inequalities. As Tony Blair's [Blair was the British Prime Minister from 1997-2007; among other things, he played a key role in backing George W. Bush in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was justified by lies about "weapons of mass destruction"—Revolution] top adviser Peter Mandelson infamously said of Labour, we are intensely at ease with people getting seriously rich. They have also turned out to be intensely at ease with people sinking into grinding poverty.
But as the rebellions continued, Labour has ditched its talk about the social causes of the rebellion and jumped into line with the entire British ruling establishment and begun to call for more repression—on BBC, former London Mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone is trying to prove himself "electable" in the upcoming Mayoral elections, by hailing the police, and calling for beefing up their ranks. Black Labour Party MPs [members of Parliament—Revolution] or ex-MPs like Dennis Lammy have joined in, as has Dianne Abbott who said, "Cuts don't turn you into a thief." Labour will undoubtedly renew their talk of how these events show the need to fight the "Tory cutbacks"—but only once they are sure that the rebellion has been crushed by brute force.
Deep down everyone knows why the police shot Mark Duggan. Black people in Britain have suffered the worst of all from imperialism. First black people were enslaved in the African Holocaust, then the lands were colonised in the nineteenth century "Scramble for Africa." How does a nation that has committed such genocide justify its actions to itself? By telling itself that black people are "violent" and "savage" and deserve to be exploited and oppressed by "superior" white people. It was these self-serving stereotypes that are the background for the mentality of the police officers that opened fire and killed Mark Duggan. The people who have protested and revolted will sense this, even if these views never appear in the mainstream media.
One of the main themes being put out by the media, including the BBC, is that the police have been going "too easy" on the youth rebelling in the streets. This has unleashed a frenzy of activity from the English Defence League, the British National Party and other racist thugs on social media networks. On so-called respectable blogging sites like Yahoo UK, there have been countless open calls not only to expel the immigrants but to outright "exterminate" them. But there is not a word of protest at this from any establishment figure.
And what about the endless stream of charges that, as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, put it, "Let's be clear, the violence we saw last night had nothing to do with the death of Mr. Duggan. It was needless opportunist theft and violence—nothing more, nothing less." Several things need to be said about this. First, consider the hypocrisy of the political and media spokesmen of this system flying into a frenzy of outrage at inner city youth stealing trainers, mobile phones or other petty items. This ruling class built their system on the slave trade, they enforced a colonial empire at the cost of tens of millions of lives, and today they make hundreds of billions from an empire that stretches around the globe and is enforced at gunpoint in Afghanistan and Iraq. These world-class imperialist hypocrites have no right to condemn anyone for "looting and thieving."
But let's take a closer look at the actual way the "thieving and looting" has gone down. In fact, it is very clear that, as the Guardian headlined their coverage on August 9, "There was no doubting their aim: they wanted to fight the police." Much of the youths' tactics, lighting fires in side street dustbins and the like, have been aimed at drawing the police into fighting them on terrain where they have at least half a chance to get in some blows. The police, in turn, try to avoid that and instead have their own priorities—mainly defending prestigious corporate and government buildings, while conceding to the youth more space to go into areas without such targets.
So when the politicians and media point to the few flats or family shops that were burnt on the first night in Tottenham, it is important to be clear that it is the police themselves who are a major factor in determining what gets protected, and what doesn't. Furthermore, the revolts started in a spontaneous, angry outburst by teenagers who were necessarily inexperienced in struggle. Errors get made in the course of any struggle. There have been two more nights of revolts following the initial revolt in Tottenham, and it seems that despite the rapid spread of unrest, no or at least fewer homes have been destroyed by fire.
The masses taking part in this revolt or out on its fringes are full of the contradictions that come from being part of capitalist society, but being in its most oppressed sections. In one housing estate in the center of the fighting in Hackney, one Afro-Caribbean mother lamented that the youth were getting away from the original cause of justice for Mark Duggan, and was especially upset at the looting of local shops, but when her son and his mates showed up with a bag of new clothes for her, she was delighted: I'm on benefits, we've got nothing, she explained. Mothers struggled with their young sons and daughters not to go out, but shouted with glee when they saw projectiles strike home on a police van. A middle aged Iraqi political refugee clutched to his chest his valuable personal documents that he’d salvaged, and worried that the car burning in the street might ignite his flat just above, but was torn by sympathy for the youth, who were up against the very same forces who'd turned his own country into a killing ground. An Afro-Caribbean woman and her daughters gathered around a burning dumpster singing Bob Marley's song "Burning and Looting."
It is true that numerous family shops and corner stores have been looted, and this is a source of mounting tension—shopkeepers, often from a single nationality, are forming teams in different areas to defend their shops, which offers the police real opportunities to fan the flames of infighting among the oppressed.
But at the heart of this welter of contradictions, the force driving these rebellions is a sense on the part of the youth that it's a chance to strike back at the larger forces dominating their lives and oppressing them, and they're running to seize that chance. A group of four British-born youth of Somali origin heading for the fighting in Hackney Monday night talked of how they felt that they had no one that they could count on but themselves and their mates, that they might have to drop out of college due to the recent massive hike in education fees, and that they considered themselves "revolutionaries." One question in the air: how much were the youth influenced by the rebellions in the Middle East and North Africa?
It is also worth pointing out that despite the howls of outrage by the establishment about the "violence ruling England's streets," there have been no reports of anyone but the police being specifically targeted by the youth. And despite the conflicts that have erupted from time to time on the streets between white, Asian and Afro-Caribbean youth, during these rebellions all comers of whatever race are still being greeted in a spirit of unity and solidarity—a theme that is spelled out repeatedly in the Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry messages that are flying over the airwaves.
Observers have also been struck by the patchwork of rebellion that has swept through the capital and now the country. Previous rebellions—Brixton and Tottenham in the 1980s in particular—were confined to a single area of the capital, in response to a particular outrage by the police. But as in the outbreaks of revolt in France a few years ago, fighting with the police has now erupted in at least 20 or more different districts in the capital plus several in cities in the Midlands, with the youth proving far more fluid and fast-moving than even the mobile police forces. It is no exaggeration to say that this has caused shock among establishment "talking heads," who have struggled to explain this. They recoil at the idea that there are broad ranks of youth, numbering in the millions, who feel themselves to be excluded from society and to have no allegiance to its norms and rules and who long for the chance they are getting today.
This rebellion is fueled by anger at cutbacks, poverty, racism and the police. There is real fury right now at the brutality and oppression of a state apparatus that can just gun down a Black man in cold blood then try and cover its tracks with lies and misinformation. But while this was the spark, the fact that this spark has caught fire and spread so far and so fast reflects much more than any one particular abuse. The police are the front-line enforcers of an entire capitalist system that is built on exploitation and inequality. In the eyes of the system, police violence is by default "legitimate"—because they are the armed defenders of property relations that lead to a handful accumulating fabulous wealth, while millions live with nothing, and no hope of ever having anything more. It is not chance that sees the cops stop young Black men on the street thousands of times a month, with almost no arrests—this is just the sharpest edge of an entire system, and efforts to reduce what is going on to one or another particular abuse will lead to trying to put plasters on the sores when what's needed is to get to the root cause and overthrow the system that is the source of all these abuses through revolution.
As night three of the rebellions winds down, the question on everyone's lips is, what next? Cries are going up for broad curfews or for the army to intervene, ideas that are being evoked even by liberal news presenters like the BBC's John Humphrys. One thing is sure: the justice and respect the masses crave and deserve will not be granted to them by this system.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
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